A temperatures drop, homeless seek shelter where they can

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Posted: Wednesday, November 27, 2013 5:16 pm

SARASOTA, Fla. - As the temperature drops and the worry over preparing Thanksgiving dinner begins, some Suncoast residents are concerned more with finding a warm place to sleep.

The Salvation Army expects a full house Wednesday night. It says it has more than 200 beds in its emergency shelter, and it already takes in more people than ever thanks to the efforts to move homeless people off the streets.

Cold in a land of palm trees is a relative thing, but a real one if you sleep on the street.

"Keep shivering and shivering and shivering.” John Rentschler remembers what it’s like. He says he spent more than a decade homeless, and had to find shelter where he could. “Walls like this…get around walls and it'll isolate the wind and isolate the coldness from you and you stay kind of warm.”

Now the walls of the Salvation Army on 10th Street -- with 200 emergency beds inside -- offer warmth. And people started coming before the cold. "We've seen numbers in the last six weeks -- looking at the last ten years -- that we've never seen before," says Major Ethan Frizzell.

Part of that comes from efforts to steer homeless people there for programs that help them get off the street permanently. Another part comes from something you would not expect.

"Those who are really unfortunate and want to pull themselves up, we've got to support a place like the Salvation Army," says Downtown Sarasota Alliance member Victor Scully. He lives in what some have dubbed the ‘mean building,’ in the downtown of a city some call hostile to the homeless.

The Downtown Sarasota Alliance has raised money to lower the cost of staying at the Salvation Army to $1 a night. One dollar to shield people from real cold in this paradise of palm trees…and maybe get them on a path like John Rentschler's, into a real home.

“I am really grateful that I have a place to go to and say that it's my home.”

Ethan Frizzell from the Salvation Army says Sarasota Police will be there to help keep an eye on things. He says that some people -- either through mental illness, drug use, or because they won't stop selling drugs while they're on the property -- simply do not mix well in large crowds of people like they have in the shelter on a night like Wednesday night. But the police presence will make it possible to try to take those people in, too.

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