Marbut Sees Progress for Homeless Families



While the implementation of a plan to tackle homelessness in Sarasota County has proven difficult and controversial, the consultant who drafted the report sounds surprisingly pleased about progress. Dr. Robert Marbut, who will soon return to Sarasota County and produce an update report for county commissioners, said he has been impressed that facilities to help homeless families have come online in such a short period of time, even if plans for a come-as-you-are shelter have stalled. 

“My plan called for building three places, and two are fully built and operational,” he said. “If you wanted me to make a bet 18 months on what would be open by now, I was sure people really wanted to deal with the chronic homeless, but there was no collective interest in help for families that were homeless.” Marbut referred to portals for transient families that have opened in the last year in Sarasota and North Port. “The community came together on families and children in a way I've never seen anywhere in America.”

Of course, he said that doesn’t solve the original charge that brought him to town in the first place. Marbut is less impressed with progress in treating chronic homelessness, and said lack of progress on a come-as-you-are shelter prevents forward motion. Street teams and other policies employed by the City of Sarasota will not be successful without somewhere to place chronic homeless, many of whom cannot stay in private shelters such as The Salvation Army. He labeled such efforts “gimmicky,” and reminded that in a Florida locale like Sarasota, there is a certain influx of homeless individuals to counter any small gain in getting a few individuals each year off the streets. 

When asked about a “Housing First” focused plan recently endorsed by Sarasota City Commissioners, Marbut said Housing First can work but only with a major investment of resources. He figures an investment of $2.4 million in the first 24 months will be required to find or build permanent housing for homeless, and noted that many chronically homeless won’t stick in that housing and will remain a problem. “This is an expense that will exist for a long period of time,” he said.

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