Downtown merchants sound-off on vagrants

  • 1

SARASOTA, FLA   What was supposed to be a routine status update on the homeless situation in turned into an emotional display by about a dozen downtown merchants.

"These are the people that don't want help, don't want a job, they want to get up in the morning, smoke a joint, get drunk and stay that way all day long," said Ron Soto, who owns a Main Street optical boutique.

Soto says vagrants are scaring customers away from downtown--and he's not alone.

Christine Baer is heartbroken at what she says is happening to Main Street.

"I had a drunk vagrant come in the store and started camping out, I asked him to leave and he started calling me names," Baer said. She owns "Wet Noses," a Main Street pet shop.

Christine and Ron were among a dozen people who begged city commissioners do do something about the growing problem of vagrants around downtown Sarasota.

The city hired Robert Marbut to help solve the problem--a problem that even he admits is getting worse.

"It's definitely increasing. Part of that is a national trend all through the southern areas, the bad winter, and the other is the history of Sarasota having an enabling community," Marbut said.

Enabling the homeless is why one business owner suggested the city pull back from talk of new shelters and services.

"This is a great place to be homeless and it's a damn good place to be a criminal vagrant. Let's think about having fewer resources," he said.

Soto agrees.

"A shelter will help people who want help, it won't help the people who don't want help. Nothing's going to help them," he said.

Marbut will update Sarasota County Commissioners on Tuesday morning.  He hopes a new shelter location is decided next month.