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Photo by Everett Dennison

On Wednesday, nearly one year after the Sarasota City Commission quashed a come-as-you-are homeless shelter, a Who’s Who group of Sarasota nonprofit CEOs unveiled a new shelter plan to deal with the city’s nagging adult chronic homelessness problem. Brought together by the Patterson Foundation, the CEO group has spent more than six months behind closed doors on its “3 Into 1” plan, which would see the Salvation Army drug and alcohol recovery campus on 10th Street repurposed into a 220-bed homeless shelter. Support services for the homeless would be located on the campus, and the Resurrection House, which provides daytime services to the chronic homeless at its Kumquat Court facility, would be invited to relocate to the new shelter as well.

The CEOs of the Suncoast Partnership to End Homelessness, the Salvation Army, Goodwill, Coastal Behavioral Healthcare, Catholic Charities, Jewish Family & Children’s Service, the YMCA, All Faiths Food Bank and others—all major nonprofits that provide services to Sarasota’s homeless—came together on the plan. 3 Into 1 would fulfill homeless expert Dr. Robert Marbut’s recommendation for a 24/7 come-as-you-are homeless shelter within the city of Sarasota near the jail and mental health services without the need to finance and build a new facility.

The plan promises to address the hundreds of homeless sleeping in makeshift camps within the city and congregating in the Rosemary District, most notably on Central Avenue, Kumquat Court, in Gillespie Park, and on downtown’s Main Street. The City Commission’s inability to deal with its urban homeless population has consistently drawn negative national headlines. The situation caused a notable rift between the city and county last year, and has been cited as one of the possible reasons city voters earlier this month replaced two interim commissioners with underdog candidates Liz Alpert and Shelli Freeland Eddie.

In announcing the plan on Wednesday with the YMCA’s CEO Kurt Stringfellow, the Suncoast Partnership to End Homelessness’s Leslie Loveless said, “We knew we had to formulate a plan to better address the needs of homeless adults in Sarasota and we had to do it with a unified approach, a plan we could all agree to and support.  [With this plan], we can develop a state-of-the art center for the adult homeless. We have to credit the Salvation Army for wanting and agreeing to this.”

The YMCA is a newcomer to Sarasota’s homeless shelter issue, and Loveless says it was Stringfellow’s role as outsider and mediator within the group that helped lead to 3 Into 1. “Kurt came into it with new eyes and was able to help us check our egos at the door,” she says.

“I think this was the first time our own local experts, who are working on this problem daily, were included to this extent,” Stringfellow said. “If the plan is adopted, where the Salvation Army will go with it 160 [current drug and alcohol recovery beds] has to be determined, who will run the shelter has to be determined. From our group’s standpoint, we think it has to be law enforcement.”

Contacted separately, Major Ethan Frizzell of the Salvation Army said that while many questions about 3 Into 1 remain, his organization is on board. "Whatever will come to be [from the plan], it will be a community effort. You'll notice we didn't put this out as a Salvation Army plan, it's not a YMCA plan, it's collaborative," Frizzell said. "Obviously the Salvation Army is going to use the property to fulfill our mission. But how do you negotiate the highest and best use [of the property for the community]? We've been at the table [on the 3 Into 1 plan] the whole time."

The CEOs have presented their plan to city and county representatives and are awaiting feedback. In April, the City Commission unanimously approved city manager Tom Barwin’s plan to address the issue. "The Barwin Plan” calls for 500 “Housing First”-style apartment units for the chronic homeless, but includes no shelter (Housing First immediately moves homeless into their own apartments). The Barwin Plan has yet to answer how its Housing First model will be funded.

Marbut, the county’s homeless czar Wayne Applebee, and others have warned that Housing First alone cannot work in Sarasota because Sarasota’s expensive real estate market does not offer the affordable housing stock a Housing First plan needs. Last year, Marbut accused Barwin, city commissioner Susan Chapman and Mayor Willie Shaw as blocking a shelter in the city because of “NIMBYism”—a “Not in My Backyard” stance toward any shelter within the city regardless of need or benefit.

Following Loveless’s and Stringfellow’s 3 Into 1 plan announcement, on Thursday, Marbut addressed Sarasota residents at a “community conversation” at the downtown County Administration Center. Marbut continued his criticism of the City Commission on the adult chronic homeless issue, including The Barwin Plan.

“The fundamental problem with Housing First is its cost. It is very, very expensive,” Marbut said. “We have social service agencies [here] saying that they have money [to pursue Housing First] but they simply can’t afford [the Sarasota real estate market]. We have functional zero vacancy here, especially on the affordable side. If you build [Housing First apartments], it will be about $41 million starting price, just the construction. Ongoing operations per 100 people will be $1 million just for the case managers.”

Marbut went on to warn that, “[Without a shelter], you’ll never solve the problem. In Florida, Sarasota is the largest community that does not have a 24/7 come-as you-are shelter. Tallahassee just opened a brand new 24/7 [shelter], Orlando has an elaborate system, Miami has an elaborate system, Tampa has two different [shelters]. Places significantly smaller than us have 24/7 [shelters]. You need both, the 24/7  [shelters] and also the long-term housing stock. But you have to start somewhere. You have to put a pin on the map and say, 'That’s where [the shelter] is going, and that’s what we are going to do.' We know what and where the problem is. We just have to make a decision to solve the problem.”

In separate comments, Wayne Applebee said of the 3 Into 1 plan, “It has a lot of common sense. Will the city agree? I think it’s going to be a long conversation. The county has not taken a position on The Barwin Plan. I think it’s great that the city has a plan, but there is the whole funding question. If the city doesn’t like the [3 Into 1] plan, doesn’t like the Marbut plan, then [the question becomes] does the County Commission have to do something in the county on its own?”

Marbut will present a “report card” on the homeless situation to the City Commission on June 23.  Sarasota currently has zero 24/7 shelter beds for the chronic homeless. In a January head-count survey, the Suncoast Partnership to End Homelessness found a 17.3 percent increase in chronically homeless individuals in Sarasota County.

Click here to read investigative reporter Tony D’Souza’s story about the city’s failure to deal with chronic adult homelessness in Sarasota. >>