Proposed tent city for homeless faces an uphill battle

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SARASOTA - Controversy is brewing over a Sarasota non-profit's proposal to help the homeless. The group wants to build a tent city for people living along Florida Avenue, who in just two days will be forced to leave that spot.

The proposed site is located on four acres behind 1003 North Washington Boulevard. But city officials say the area is not zoned for that type of use. According to property records, it’s zoned for Commercial Intensive. But Sarasota’s city manager tells ABC 7 that it must be zoned as residential in order for the tents to be set up there.

And so far, no one has requested that change.

Vallerie Guillory's goal is to create temporary homes for the homeless. “We do have pledges in the millions of dollars to fund whatever is agreed to go on this property.”

Guillory says the land was donated by the owner to her organization, Trinity Without Borders, a non-profit that helps the homeless find shelter, food and clothing. “We had several conversations with the owner and discussions. We found out it was in his heart to donate the use of the property to assist the disadvantaged people in Sarasota.”

Now she seems to be at a disadvantage. According to city manager Tom Barwin, unless a rezoning request is properly made, no one can live there anytime soon. “To the best of my knowledge, we have not seen a formal application to rezone the property to allow that to be an allowable use,” says Barwin.

Even if that happens, he says there are still lots of questions that need answers.

He says in the meantime, if members of the homeless are looking for a place to stay, he the Salvation Army just blocks away is always open. “That's what it’s there for. They will waive a fee, as long as someone is in a treatment program, and they have a tremendous success record.”

Guillory and several members of the homeless spoke at Monday afternoon's city commission meeting, asking city leaders to allow them to set up this tent city. However, again, until a formal rezoning request is made -- by the owner of the property -- no one from the city can act.

As a model for her proposed tent city, Guillory is looking at Pinellas Hope, a tent city in St. Petersburg that provides services and shelter for the homeless up there.