Hope on Homelessness

City Government

BY TOM BARWIN SRQ DAILY SATURDAY PERSPECTIVES EDITION SATURDAY APR 22, 2017

Although the challenge of chronic homelessness in the Manatee-Sarasota County region remains daunting, some very positive information and promising developments have emerged this month.

To qualify for federal funding to help address homelessness in our region, the Federal Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), requires the local Continuum of Care (COC) responsible for coordinating the homeless response in Manatee and Sarasota Counties complete a one day homeless survey each year. The survey is known as the point-in-time (PIT) survey to count the homeless.

The local COC responsible for coordinating and monitoring the flow of federal grants to local agencies is a local not-for-profit known as the Suncoast Partnership to End Homelessness. The partnership is also responsible to undertake the annual homeless count.

This year’s 2017 homeless count took place on January 23. The 2017 PIT survey revealed that homelessness in the City of Sarasota was down by 200 people, which is a 32 percent reduction from the 2016 count. I attribute the significant reduction of homelessness within the City to the work of our Homeless Outreach Team, the Sarasota Police Department and their partners in the community who work to bring appropriate interventions to those languishing day to day on the streets.

Although this is positive news, 429 individuals remain homeless in the city and another 448 homeless were counted in Sarasota County outside of the city borders. Together the homeless count in Sarasota County is 877. Another 570 individuals were documented as homeless in Manatee County.

This adds up to 1,447 homeless individuals in our two-county area, which is less than one quarter of one percent of our 702,000 full-time population. Of the 1,447 homeless in the two-county region, the report has identified 285 individuals as being chronically homeless, i.e. deteriorating on the streets for over a year.

Shortly after the annual homeless count was released, the Sarasota City Commission received the April 2017 report from Florida homelessness expert Dr. Susan Pourciau, who was retained by the city to independently review our region’s approach to dealing with homelessness, as compared to the best practices in the state and country.

Dr. Pourciau has quietly and methodically dialogued with city and county staff, city and county elected officials, most homeless service providers in the region, local foundations, housing specialists and others to evaluate how our region works on this difficult and complex challenge.

Her full report can be found on the City of Sarasota website at http://www.sarasotagov.org/PDF/CM/SarasotaCreatingAnEffectiveHomelessSystem.pdf and is titled “Creating an Effective HOMELESS CRISIS Response System.”

Having worked for over a decade in the homeless response field, Dr. Pourciau has based her findings and recommendations on her extensive experience, knowledge of best practices and hard data from throughout the state. Her top recommendations, as outlined below, are focused on the gaps she observed in the current system.

CLEAR AND ACHIEVABLE RECOMMENDATIONS

#1. Our region needs to get organized as a coordinated and unified team. This can be achieved by the establishment of an influential Leadership Board working in close partnership with the Suncoast Partnership to End Homelessness. The Leadership Board should include city and county representatives and other key public and private sector leaders accountable to various elements of the community who are concerned with this problem and wish to help.

#2. In collaboration with the Leadership Board, create a Funders Council to address resource allocation, collaboration and performance metrics.

#3. The Leadership Board and Funders Council should create an effective communications and messaging plan to build community support to create the Homeless Crisis Response System.

#4. The Leadership Board, in collaboration with the Funders Council and the Suncoast Partnership should establish specific processes for tracking, investigating and responding to specific outcome-focused performance measures for the system as a whole, as well as for individual programs and agencies.

#5. Two specific adult sub-populations should be identified and addressed first: 1) homeless veterans, and 2) single adults who are long-term homeless and have disabling conditions.

I am pleased to report the Sarasota City Commission has directed my office to begin to implement Dr. Pourciau's recommendations with the community. I am also pleased to report that the Suncoast Partnership Board has also agreed to implement Dr. Pourciau's recommendations. The Sarasota County Commission will consider the recommendations very soon as well.

It appears there is good reason to have hope for real progress on the homeless crisis, with a potential role for all who care about this issue.

Tom Barwin is Sarasota city manager.

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