Officials: New Policy Change at Local Shelter Spikes Homeless Population in Sarasota

New Issues Involving Homeless

SARASOTA, Fla. (WWSB) - It’s been a challenging issue, but Sarasota has been nationally recognized for what it’s doing to combat homelessness.

However, along with that success, the city is now facing a new hurdle. The City of Sarasota has reduced the homeless population by more than 50 percent in the last four years, but new policy changes at other shelters have made the numbers go up once again.

“The Manatee County Salvation Army closed their nighttime sleeping mats, so 90 new people have been displaced and are out on the streets now instead of sleeping at the Manatee Shelter at night. They’re on the streets of Bradenton, Manatee County, and some have even migrated here to Sarasota, so it just never ends," Tom Barwin, Sarasota City Manager, explained.

Since that change, there have been around 50 more people requesting overnight shelter stays in Sarasota, and record numbers for lunch at local churches. However, the Salvation Army in Manatee County says although it may seem harsh, their policy change was necessary.

“We’ve reduced the availability of beds to 14 men and 14 women and children, and what we’re trying to do there is to get people to move into our programs. Stuff that actually makes a change for them, and causes steps towards sustainability,” Brian Payne, the Program Manager for the Manatee County Salvation Army, explained.

That’s what the City of Sarasota says they’ve been trying to do the last few years as well with their Homeless Outreach Program and the Homeless Care Court, but it seems like it will always be a work in progress.

“We have good, solid, reliable database to work off of, but there are some gaps in the system,” Barwin said.

Both counties agree that there’s more to homelessness than just money and having a roof over your head, and that substance abuse, mental health and just poor life-skills can be the biggest factors.

“Lots of different things play into homelessness, so if you don’t get someone into a program that tries to address all those issues and just put a roof over there head, it doesn’t really change their situation and they just go back to being homeless,” said Payne.

These programs are seen as the only way to help these chronically homeless people on the Suncoast to get off of the streets. However, funding these programs is the biggest struggle.

“Philanthropists and the churches just aren’t able to handle it all, so there needs to be a program that’s funded adequately,” explained Barwin.

Local officials from both Sarasota and Manatee County have plans on how these programs can be run in a more cost-effective way. They’ll be sharing those ideas on Tuesday on ABC7 News at 7.

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