After five years of failed strategies and finger pointing, the city of Sarasota and Sarasota County government agreed last year on a plan to reduce the number of single adult homeless in Sarasota County. The secret behind the success? A small group of committed individuals meeting quietly twice a week every week for a year, who agreed to check their egos, share information and persist, no matter how contentious the conversations.
The partners—too many to name—came from the city of Sarasota, Sarasota County government, the Gulf Coast Community Foundation, the Florida Housing Coalition and multiple nonprofits. Some of the key players were Gulf Coast Community Foundation’s Jon Thaxton, who got everyone to the table; Sarasota County’s patient and calm director of homeless services Wayne Applebee; City of Sarasota deputy city manager Marlon Brown, who was determined to set aside past grievances to seek solutions; and the Florida Housing Coalition’s homeless expert Susan Pourciau.
The plan has an unwieldy name—Creating an Effective Crisis Response to Adult Homelessness—but it distills the complicated needs of the homeless by creating a coordinated entry system so that all agencies dealing with the homeless are using the same data and strategies. Fifty beds at the Salvation Army have been set aside for the homeless. A rapid rehousing program has been launched for people who need support for 18 months to two years before they can live independently. And most ambitious, the partners have agreed to work towards finding permanent housing and help for those homeless who will always need support.
Homelessness won’t go away, the group says, but Sarasota can create a system that is more humane and more successful for the homeless, taxpayers and business.
“This speaks to the basics of human rights and human needs that we’re taught through our spirituality and religion,” says Thaxton. “It’s what we’re supposed to be doing.”
Come celebrate present and past Unity Award winners with us at a luncheon on February 8 at Michael’s On East. For more information and to purchase tickets, click here.