Saturday, March 26, 2011

A community meeting was held on the afternoon of Friday, March 25th, in South Sarasota County. More than 60 people participated and were heard from throughout the afternoon.
One valuable participant was Steve, a laid off union carpenter who is presently homeless. Steve told us about his daily challenges. For instance, there is presently no place in Southern Sarasota County where people who are homeless are able to take a shower. Nor was Steve aware of any place where he could get laundry done.
When Steve discussed his laundry issue, some very energetic women from North Port told us how they had addressed the problem. They had entered into an arrangement with a local Laundromat to purchase and distribute vouchers to homeless citizens. This model may have potential throughout the rest of the county. Learning about strategies like this has been one of the great benefits of undertaking the Ten Year Plan to End Homelessness.
Other matters that were discussed included:
--We need to do a better job getting the word out about services that are presently available. Probably the best resource that is presently available is the 211 service. People can call 211 and get information about agencies and resources. Some of this information used to be available in a printed book. The problem is that the material would quickly become dated. A representative from 211 pointed out that there are also many eligibility criteria for some of the services and that makes it difficult to make accurate and helpful referrals. For those with internet access, information about 211 can be found here: .
--Representatives from Sarasota County Area Transit (SCAT) were present. They understand that SCAT buses are an important resource for citizens who are homeless. SCAT works with agencies to distribute vouchers. It was suggested that this voucher program could be expanded to serve more people, particularly if SCAT buses are under utilized. SCAT is also well aware of the popularity and limitations of the bike racks that most buses have been outfitted with.
--Shelter is lacking. Recently, successful efforts have been made to open a cold weather shelter. However, there is little to no available shelter space in Southern Sarasota for the rest of the year. Several participants noted that young men are in need. There is a population of homeless teenage or young males in need of housing. Mention was also made of the increasing issue of opiate addiction and the lack of supportive housing for those struggling to overcome their problems.
--There is tremendous support from the community for tackling these and other issues. I am very grateful to Mayor Holick and councilman Carlesimo from the City of Venice, and command staff from the Venice Police Department, who attended yesterday and listened with open minds. Sarasota County government remains supportive of our efforts and Commissioner Carolyn Mason again led and fully participated in yesterday’s session. And local service providers like Catholic Charities and Jewish Family and Children Services have also given us insight and knowledge.
A meeting like yesterday helps demonstrate the real potential of a group like the Suncoast Partnership to End Homelessness. Our success comes from the ability to gather compassionate and skilled members of the community together so that we can learn from one another, identify gaps in service, and avoid duplication of efforts. The next community meeting of the Ten Year Plan to End Homelessness will be held on Friday, April 8th, at 2:00 pm, at the Church of the Redeemer, 222 S. Palm Avenue in Sarasota.

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