Homeless expert says Sarasota County on verge of crisis

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SARASOTA, Fla. - A renowned homeless expert has spent the past 24 hours in Sarasota County. Dr. Robert Marbut travels the country and works to help areas fix homeless issues.  He says something needs to be done here soon because the problem is about to get much worse.

"I think you are at near crisis." Marbut has worked on homeless issues for more than three decades. He spent Wednesday walking and talking to area homeless and to groups working to help. Thursday he's sharing his initial findings with about 100 community leaders. "This community has a great heart. The return on investment inside the local agencies is amazing."

However, he says they're not always working together, while lacking some needed facilities. "Emergency housing is absolutely critical for families and children right now."

Marbut says nearly one in four of the local jail population is homeless. Saying the arrests don't solve the problem. He says there is also too much enabling. Too many free food programs when people should be out working to better themselves.

Marbut says his strategies have helped reduce the homeless population in areas between 80-93%. "First you create a system and they you create these facilities and you bring people into programming. Only through programming are you going to get people off the streets."

Sarasota County Sheriff Tom Knight says even in South Sarasota County the population is more than anyone would guess. He says his deputies are frustrated with the current options. "When the deputy is trying to help a homeless person out or help a citizen who has called about that, what avenues do they have to utilize? When need more of those avenues here."

Marbut has been hired around the country to come in, devise, and implement his plan for under $20,000. Lynette McCleland is with the Center of Hope in Venice. She says last year the social service organization helped more than 18,000 people in need. "We were very impressed with what he had to say. It is going to take someone who has worked with the homeless population to coordinate all of the efforts to come up with a sound plan."

Marbut says he's not fishing for work but is willing to take on the job if the community wants him. He says with our climate and many more Veterans returning from conflicts, the situation is about to get worse. "If you do not do anything in this community, the one thing I can guarantee you is in 24 months you will be a bout 20-30% higher then you are now."

Who would pay for the additional research and organization is yet to be determined.

Thursdays forum was put on by the Gulf Coast Community Foundation and the Community Foundation of Sarasota County.