Proposed Sarasota homeless shelter plan falls apart

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SARASOTA, Fla. -- The highly anticipated vote on where to put a proposed “come as you are" homeless shelter ended without the selection of a site. Instead, city officials decided to start looking at other options.

During the meeting, many voiced concerns about officials failing to act and kicking the homeless problem down the road. But others were happy that none of the three locations under consideration were selected.

"The people are relived that we are taking our time to look at other alternatives," says Sarasota resident Lynn Robbins. She’s happy that officials agreed not to move forward with any of the three proposed sites for the so-called “come as you are” shelter. The locations that were being considered include 209 N. Lime Ave., 1800 N. East Ave. and 1330 N Osprey Ave.

Officials disliked the East Avenue and Osprey sites because the construction cost would be around $9 million. Some county officials liked the Lime Avenue site because it was priced at $3 million, but city officials voted to not consider it, saying development plans for that area would be impacted.

Robbins agrees.

"The developers have said if you put the ‘come as you are’ shelter here they may not want to develop in the city, so it would be a negative impact,” she says.

Robbins says approving any of the three locations would have also had a negative impact on businesses in the area.

"It’s my understanding that [at] the ‘come as you are’ shelter, they spend the night there and then they're let go during the day,” Robbins says. “Then we'll have more people downtown, and the merchants are hurting and these people are really costing the city residents."

The owner of D.C Valet Dry Cleaners is one of those merchants.

"They panhandle a lot,” says D.C.’s owner, Rusty Ellis. “They approach all the customers in this complex. They'll come in here and ask for money, and then they start cussing and swearing."

But supporters say the “come as you are” shelter would address those concerns.

"Instead of sending someone to the jail for one day at a cost of about $80 a day, we want to send them somewhere they can get treatment -- and that’s going to be the ‘come as you are’ shelter,” says Paul Sutton of the Community Alliance of Sarasota County. “At the shelter they are going to have an opportunity to change their lives."

Sutton says that as the chronic homeless population changes their lives, less of them will be on the street.

“This is a win-win,” he says. “There is a big initial cost of starting the shelter, but there is a savings every time spend $20 versus $80, and more importantly it would improve the quality of life for everyone if we can move these chronic homeless into homes [and] jobs."

Officials will now re-start from the beginning the site-selection process, possibly giving another look to locations that had previously rejected. City officials provided no timeline for how long the process will take.