Sarasota proposes new advisory committee on homeless veterans

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SARASOTA, Fla. -- The City of Sarasota is proposing a new advisory committee to help get homeless people off the streets. It would focus on veterans and the mental health of the homeless, but the consultant hired by the city and county to advise on this very issue says it's a waste of time.

Two weeks ago, the Sarasota City Commission came up with three goals to resolve the homeless problem.

"Number one was to reduce homeless, chronically homeless, veterans from the street to zero within a year," says Sarasota City Manager Tom Barwin.

It’s a large undertaking, along with the stated goals to restore a homeless outreach team on the streets and create an advisory support team. Barwin is proposing an advisory committee to supplement the effort to get homeless veterans off the streets.

"The estimates are there are anywhere from 30 to 60 homeless veterans near or around downtown and so that's our number one priority, to try to get these folks into the appropriate programs and ultimately into housing," Barwin says.

To make this happen, Barwin is proposing a committee consisting of a dozen social service agencies, along with licensed mental health workers and case managers, to fill what he says is the gap.

But Dr. Robert Marbut, the expert on the homeless hired by the city, says the city and county need to focus on core problems first, before they can fix anything else.

"Simply, you don't have capacity and you don't have 24/7,” Marbut says. “Those are your two core problems, and so all this stuff on the edge is -- it won't work. It's not even a band aid. It's like short-term ointment."

But the city's caseworker sees the potential for a committee to address the mental health of the majority of the homeless.

"I think the difference is we have the knowledge to go to that individual and identify the challenges, because often time a person suffering from mental illness [is] not on the forefront," says caseworker Calvin Collins.

Of the dozen agencies, Barwin says Salvation Army and Jewish Family and Children's Services are among those on board with the committee.

The Sarasota City and County Commissions will discuss the proposal of the advisory panel during a joint meeting on June 23.