SARASOTA, Fla. – The City of Sarasota is preparing to break up a homeless encampment near Gillespie Park. This particular parcel of land has long been known as a homeless hangout, and it recently became the makeshift operations center for a group trying to help the homeless.
But the city still sees it as an illegal homeless camp.
"We turned this in to an official camp site those of us who are homeless, and the city is right now trying to tell us to move," says Darrell Arline, one of about 30 homeless people who call the tent city near U.S. 301 and Washington Avenue home.
"See how I live?” Arline asks. “This is my way of being free to deal with my issue of being homeless."
Arline and his fellow homeless campers have been given five business days to vacate their tents, a decision the city says it has no choice but to make.
"Lodging out of doors is against the law throughout the city, except with the permission of the property owner," says Assistant City Attorney Joe Mladinich. Not only is the camp site illegal, but its also creating what he calls a “health hazard.” His concerns are echoed by the Sarasota Police Department.
"If you go back here what you're going to find is feces, your going to smell urine -- things that you don’t want to live in or people should live in," says Officer David Dubendorf with the Police.
Those at the camp admit there have been some sanitary issues, but they say they've taken the necessary steps to clean up the area. Some have even reached out to the city commission, asking the city to provide portable toilets and trash services, but those requests have been denied. The city says they are providing outreach services and have teamed up with the Salvation Army to provide a free 30 night stay for and forgiveness for those who were previously banned from the facility.
"A lot of these people were trespassed and have already been black flagged from this, and they are going to overlook those,” Dubendorf says. “If they follow the rules they can stay there, and hopefully if they stay there long enough they will get into a program."
Not everyone is that optimistic.
"I don’t see them being able to commit to 30 days worth of housing on the floor and a shelter when they've been living in their little homes here for 5, 6, 7, 8 years," Says Vallerie Guillory of the homeless advocacy group Trinity Without Borders.
Guillory says being in the shelter will require many in the homeless community to give up their privacy and their pets, and for couples to be separated. That has many of the homeless wondering where they're going to go and what will happen next.
"After these 30 days, I still face this dilemma," Arline says.
The city has given those at the homeless camps five business days to remove their belongings, meaning they have until Monday, March 18th to vacate. The Salvation Army is helping to provide storage for those who need it.