The story of Streets of Paradise is one of growth. At barely a year old, the photo-series-turned-501(c)(3)-nonprofit has established its first office. It's one of many recent developments for the organization, which seeks to combat homelessness in Sarasota.
“It’s a small symbol of progress," the organization's co-founder Greg Cruz says. "Everyone is embracing it, and everyone is excited.”
Another new change: Streets of Paradise's recent partnership with the Suncoast Partnership to End Homelessness. After Suncoast's CEO, Ed DeMarco, spotted our article about Streets of Paradise, he contacted Cruz for a meeting. Streets of Paradise is now part of the Continuum of Care, the city's homeless response team.
"Continuum of Care wanted us to come on board and fill up a void it had," Cruz says. "Once it actually re-homes people, tenants move into homes with absolutely nothing."
That's where Streets of Paradise comes in. Cruz began regularly collecting donations, including furniture and other household items, for the organization at his own home in 2017. Around the same time, Streets of Paradise obtained a 600-gallon water tank post-Hurricane Irma, and moved all the donations into a 38x10 storage unit. Although the new 900-square-foot office, located at 3080 N. Washington Blvd., Unit 29, will primarily serve as a storage space, the upstairs loft will house a closet of professional clothes for those in need to wear to interviews or work. Streets of Paradise has also started hosting regular meetings in the space.
Despite this partnership, Streets of Paradise wants to remain independent. Part of that comes into play with the office's lease. It's paid for by Streets of Paradise's core team, who each contribute a little to keep it going.
"We’re paying for everything out of pocket," Cruz says. "We all believe strongly in what we’re doing. We have a great team—we’ve become like a small family.”
Next up: two fundraising art exhibitions to show off the photographs that first made Streets of Paradise go viral. One will take place this summer at the Fogartyville Community Media & Arts Center, and co-founder Allan Mestel is also working on a month long art exhibit at the Unitarian Universalist Church.
Long term, Streets of Paradise wants to establish itself as a base for helping at-risk homeless communities and the working poor. Cruz and Mestel also want to expand into career development, life-skill coaching and counseling.
"We could buy anyone a house," Cruz says. "But there are still going to be underlying issues that people still need help with."
One thing is for certain: Streets of Paradise is gaining momentum. Or, as Cruz puts it, "We're crawling, but we're definitely going to be running soon."
This Sunday, the organization partners with Showered and Empowered, Inc. to give makeovers to the homeless population in the area. Streets of Paradise was also recently designated as the benefactor for a portion of the proceeds from the next Marketing on Main event on March 27. More information about other Streets of Paradise events can be found on its Facebook page.