SARASOTA, FLA There aren't many issues that would cause dozens of people to give up part of their Friday night--but the growing issue of vagrants in downtown Sarasota is one of them. Merchants and residents sounded off tonight at First United Methodist Church on South Pineapple Avenue in Sarasota.
"I have customers who won't come in my shop because of who is outside my shop. My girls who work there are afraid of working there at night," said one Main Street business owner.
Another woman just moved here from Dallas, but says she may not have come if she had realized how bad the problem would become--and her comment sent a chill through the room.
"I hear the new downtown is really going to be over by Lakewood Ranch and where the new mall is, and where all the growth is," she warmed.
Comments like that don't sit well with all the business owners in the audience--including Robert Kay who fell through a plate glass window less than a week ago, wrestling with a homeless person who's now in jail after the incident.
Homeless expert Robert Marbut said the city once called meanest in the nation for allegedly turning it's back on the homeless is now guilty of enabling the behavior.
"The good heartedness of Sarasota giving out money and food and I'm so against that," Marbut said.
And Marbut says if you think the problem is getting worse, you're right. He says back to back cold winters increased the numbers all the way from Santa Barbara to Savannah.
"One thing I can guarantee you is if you keep doing what you're doing you're going to have a 20-25 percent bigger problem in 18 months," he warned.
Sarasota City and County Commissioners will address the growing issue during a joint session on June 23rd.