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Sarasota's Huge Homeless Family Problem

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Homelessness is a growth industry in Florida where “experts” get rich spewing what cities want to hear about homelessness: Tough love. They don’t need access to hygiene, restrooms and food. If you make them miserable they’ll leave. Make parents work harder (at minimum wage jobs) so they can afford a place to live. Kids don’t need parents (who must work 2+ minimum wage jobs to survive).

Can we give Florida back to Spain?

A growing number of Sunshine State communities have cobbled together resources to pay self-proclaimed experts to make life more miserable for homeless families and adults. Take Robert Marbut, whose website introduces him: “Robert G. Marbut Jr., Ph.D.First as a volunteer, then later as a City Councilperson and agency CEO, Dr. Robert Marbut has worked on homeless issues for over three decades…In 2007, frustrated by the lack of real improvement, and as part of the concept development for the Haven for Hope Campus, Dr. Marbut …developed The Seven Guiding Principles of Transformation.” Welcome, Dr. Marbut.

He blithely dismissed 60% or more of the homeless population—families—in his recent assessment of Sarasota’s homeless problem. Sarasota’s Herald-Tribune reporter Jessie Van Berkel wrote, “Halfway into a daylong inventory of Sarasota's homeless system, he had already spotted gaps. For homeless families, there is almost no place to go.” And this expert recommended they build a “new emergency shelter (that) would house people who get locked up for crimes associated with the homeless, such as drinking in public or panhandling.” Oh “those” people. But families?

The resort community acclaimed for their wealth, “Sarasota has more Park Place neighborhoods,” has a gap for homeless families. At high risk of homelessness: thousands in poverty, not to mention those experiencing domestic violence, foreclosures, divorce, unemployment, health issues and natural disasters. And Sarasota has one family shelter, the beleaguered Family Promise organization, that can handle a whopping 4-5 families at a time.

Gaps? I’d say. I sure wish this seemed more urgent, but it appears to me that Dr. Marbut was hired to further Sarasota’s reputation as unfriendly to homeless persons. Even before Mr. Marbut came a-calling, Sarasota was dubbed “meanest city” for their anti-homelessness activities. But back to families...

Over 900 school kids have been identified as homeless, most with families, in this posh community.

Ben Kunkel, director of the United Way’s 211 (information) call center, begged for help in dealing with homeless families. “…our few family shelters (now only 1) are full and the calls are escalating at alarming rates. Yesterday, 3 families with nowhere to stay walked into our call center.  It is very difficult for us at the 211 Hotline because we have nothing to offer, and can only listen to their desperation…” He added, “Last month, we received 27 calls from families in Sarasota living in their cars, with no place to park for the night, and many more calls from couples, afraid to admit their children are with them for fear of their being taken away.”

Sure sounds like more than a gap.

It gets worse. In December, the Salvation Army shuttered their family shelter, 5 rooms (12’ x 14’ with a bathroom) because of mold. They told families to call the beleaguered 211 hotline. Helpful.

Inspired by Dr. Marbut, The Army is thinking of resurrecting their shelter, but would compromise with the “expert’s” tough love recommendation of 5-7 nights maximum. They’d offer up to 2 weeks, down from their 8-week max in pre-mold days. Generous. And totally ridiculous to think families experiencing homelessness can jump through massive hoops to attain housing in 14 days.

Perhaps most disturbing is the SA commandant’s utter ignorance about the daunting poverty challenges facing families.  Major Ethan Frizzell’s “solution” to families not having sufficient income to afford housing,  “‘Here, what we need to focus on … a new class of housing, which is livable wage housing,’ Frizzell said. ‘If one of our residents is working two jobs in the area, they should be able to find a place to live within that livable wage.’”

I’d think he was kidding, but I’ve learned that these esteemed organizations tend to sometimes slip into insanity, like the SA family shelter that charges homeless families $60 weekly for services, according to a family member (who used to be a SA officer), who also shared, “My mom is one of their poverty wage workers who, sadly, has to collect the fees.... and had to pay the fee herself when she became ill, lost her house, and had to pay to stay in the same shelter she works in.”