In the Middle of It All

In a Rapidly Changing Rosemary District, Resurrection House Remains Committed to Helping People Without a Place to Live

In Sarasota County, where homelessness is on the rise, the nonprofit day center provides unhoused individuals with food, clothing, showers and restrooms.

By Stephanie Churn Lubow March 21, 2024

Nowhere, perhaps, is the widening economic divide in Sarasota more apparent than in the Rosemary District, just north of downtown. What has been for decades a quirky and somewhat artsy urban neighborhood has begun to change in recent years, with new luxury condominiums seemingly popping up on every corner. But at the same time, ever since 2003, when the Salvation Army shelter opened on 10th Street at the district’s northern edge, the area has also been the domain of much of the city’s homeless population. Now, two very different demographics find themselves coexisting in close proximity.

On Kumquat Court, a small street in the heart of the Rosemary District, this contrast comes into sharp relief. On the east side, underneath a large crane, the five-story Villa Ballada is currently under construction and will be home to 22 luxury condominiums with balconies and a central courtyard with a private swimming pool. The cost of these residences starts at $1,030,600. Just down the street, on the opposite side, are the bright orange doors and black awnings of Resurrection House, a daytime resource center that serves those who do not have a place to live.

On one recent morning, the bicycle racks on the street outside Resurrection House are full. When guests enter, they are greeted at the front desk by smiling volunteers who screen them for entry. In an airy common room where every table is full, Mason Ayres, the current interim executive director of the organization, points out the kitchen where breakfast and lunch are prepared and served; the laundry area where clothes are washed, dried and folded by volunteers; the showers and restrooms; and a large “clothes closet” where donated items are available at no cost. Ayres says the center welcomes more than 70 homeless individuals per day—at Resurrection House, they are called “clients.”

“The numbers certainly vary by day,” he says, “but lately we have seen upwards of 100 clients on some days. We try to provide and maintain a respectful atmosphere that allows us to help them.”

According to Kevin Stiff, chief executive officer of the nonprofit Suncoast Partnership to End Homelessness, the number of homeless individuals in Sarasota County is on the rise. The organization’s most recent point-in-time survey, which collects data about the local homeless population, showed a total of 583 homeless persons in Sarasota County, up 7 percent from the previous year. Stiff stresses that this number only counts people who are willing to participate in the survey, so the real number is most likely higher.

“We’re finding more and more older individuals who are becoming homeless because they can no longer afford their rent,” Stiff says. “A lot of property owners who were previously renting to lower-income individuals are now selling those properties because the real estate value has skyrocketed. A lot more people are living paycheck to paycheck, and because the stock of affordable rental housing has greatly decreased, many are ending up homeless.”

Founded in 1989 by a coalition of six local churches, Resurrection House has been operating out of its Rosemary Court location since the organization purchased the building in 1993. The center is open Monday through Friday and relies entirely on donations from the community, as well as the hard work of its dedicated volunteers. An on-site medical clinic is staffed by a volunteer physician, and clients can receive haircuts free of charge from practitioners who donate their time. A chaplain comes in twice a week and is available for individual counseling as well as interfaith services.

In the face of the rapid change taking place in the neighborhood around it, Resurrection House maintains its commitment to its mission to help “transition at-risk individuals to a path of self-sufficiency.”

“We just want to help people get back on their feet,” says Ayres, who originally came to the center as a volunteer in 2022 after retiring from his position as the president of the Sarasota Memorial Healthcare Foundation. “We try to minimize the barriers between our clients and the resources that are out there for them.”

Despite the pressure of rising property values around the facility, there are currently no plans to relocate Resurrection House to a different area. The organization owns the Mediterranean Revival style building, and it is designated as a historic structure by the City of Sarasota and listed in the National Register of Historic Places. Originally called the Appleby Building, it was built in 1926 to contain six separate commercial spaces, with each business having its own entrance onto the street. Called Kumquat Court, it was essentially one of the first strip malls in Sarasota.

The location is central to Resurrection House’s mission. “I believe it is important that we keep near to our clients,” says Ayres. “As rents continue to increase in the area and access to affordable housing becomes more limited, the homeless population needs our services more than ever.”

Resurrection House is just one of the local organizations that work closely with the Suncoast Partnership to End Homelessness to offer assistance and advocacy for the homeless. Remnant Cafe, located on Ashton Road in south Sarasota, is another daytime center that serves homeless individuals. And there are two emergency overnight shelters in Sarasota County: The Salvation Army, which has more than 240 beds, and Harvest House, which offers 380 beds and a variety of resources over 10 campuses. Stiff says that "day centers such as Resurrection House fill the gap between what the emergency shelters can provide people and their life on the street, by offering a place to go during the day where they can receive assistance directly in the form of meals, clothing, laundry and other vital services.”

How is Resurrection House’s relationship with the surrounding community? “I think overall it’s good,” Ayres says. “We recognize that our neighborhood is changing, and we definitely want to continue to be a good neighbor and develop relationships with our friends around us. It’s an ongoing process, but for the most part, all of our neighbors support the work that we are doing here.”

The greatest challenge Resurrection House has faced in recent years has been the aftereffects of the Covid-19 pandemic. When the center reopened after the initial 2020 shutdown, only about 25 of the previous 150 volunteers returned. Over time, the number of volunteers began to rise again, and the center is now able to be open four full days per week, plus a half day on Fridays—but it's still in need of more help. “We’re on our way, but we’re not completely there yet,” says Ayres. “One role that we are also working hard to bring back is our volunteer counselors—we prefer to call them ‘navigators’—who help clients find jobs and point them to other services in the community that can support them.”

No special skills are needed to volunteer at Resurrection House, just “a heart for the homeless,” Ayres says. “We train people on what they need to do, but it’s not complicated work. We work closely with the Sarasota Police Department, and there’s an officer on duty at all times when we are open. We want to provide a safe environment for all of our clients, volunteers and staff.”

“There’s just something about this place that gets into your heart,” Ayres continues as he looks around at the bustling center. “We’ve got a great team of people, and everybody has a story as to why they are here. For the people who work here, it’s a calling to serve, and it’s very fulfilling. We say that we minister to the clients, but they are ministering right back to us, too.”

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