Homeless "portal" on the way in North Port

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NORTH PORT, Fla. - The big step to solving homeless issues in Sarasota County is taking shape in North Port, in an area that homeless expert Robert Marbut pin-pointed as having no facilities for families to turn to.

This week city commissioners moved forward with an emergency portal for those in need. It's a facility aimed at offering a short term stay while dealing with a crisis.

Providing an emergency location in North Port is the first step towards helping children and families who all of sudden find themselves without a roof over their head. "They are living in their cars or kids sleeping on different couches every night. This really provides an opportunity to provide services," says city manager Jonathan Lewis.

Current offices would be transformed into what is being called an Emergency Intake Portal at the North Port Family Services Center, located on Outreach Way off Pan American Boulevard.

Lewis says commissioners have agreed to come up with the particulars and establish how it would be run by Sarasota County in their building. "Our commission spoke about not wanting to displace the homeless family. They are kind of a non-traditional homeless."

The portal is a part of Marbut's plan. In his November report, he found nearly 350 homeless families in the county and more than 600 children, with a large percentage of them found in the southern areas of the county. "This is exciting because it is the first major tangible step."

He says the facility is only temporary, intended as a refuge for a family suddenly evicted or a place for officers to take someone involved in a domestic violence situation. "You would stay anywhere from two to five days, until you can get into a better situation."

The location at the Family Services building makes sense, they say. It’s a location that’s already offering help for things like health care, bill assistance, and voucher programs, says manager Zulma Solero. "With all of us here being able to do all of those services for those families, we should be able to get them back on track."

The Gulf Coast Community Foundation tells ABC 7 that at least four of the 12 major recommendations by marbut are in the works, including a summer feeding program through the All Faiths Food Bank.

"There are a lot of these that are getting ready to pop out of the box here. This just happens to be the first one, so it is exciting," says Marbut.

This first big step is perhaps just that little bit of help which keeps a child off the streets and a family together. "This is a commitment by our commission to deal with our problems here in North Port. Create opportunity where none may have existed before," says Lewis.

There is some work that will need to be done to the building in order for it to be ready for people to basically live there, so its opening is still months away.