The Sarasota Struggle

What it’s like to be homeless in Sarasota

Meet Steve.

Steve is one of more than 2000 homeless here in Sarasota. Instead of panhandling for money, he spends his days practicing the piano, hoping to one day play professionally.

There is no doubt that Sarasota is a beautiful city, but with more than twice the national average for homeless residents in a city its size, it also has a serious homeless problem.

This video takes you on an emotional journey through the eyes of someone who has grown up on Sarasota, and now finds himself struggling to find a home here in his own hometown.

It’s not just a Sarasota Struggle

This is actually a problem that many warm weather cities face as development begins again in cities that had been dormant over the last few years. In a recent article, the Wall Street journal cited a study conducted by James Wright, a sociology professor at the University of Central Florida.

here is an excerpt from the article

As once derelict or sleepy downtown districts in U.S. cities evolve into thriving hot spots, officials are grappling with what to do about homeless populations that have long inhabited them. The tension is “all over the country,” said James Wright, a sociology professor at the University of Central Florida who has researched the issue. “Its major effect is just to displace them to other places in the city.”

In the U.S. as a whole, the number of homeless people declined roughly 11% to 564,708 in 2015, from 637,077 in 2010, according to data from the Department of Housing and Urban Development. But in several cities, the figures are growing. In New York, the homeless population increased nearly 42% to 75,323 from 53,187. In Seattle, it grew 12% to 10,122 from 9,022. HUD’s figures include both sheltered homeless—those living in shelters or transitional housing—and unsheltered homeless—those living on the street, in cars or other unsuitable places.

Read the full article on the WSJ

For a deeper dive into the growing homeless population in Sarasota explore the articles below.

Sarasota Magazine – 2014

Inside Sarasota’s Growing Homeless Problem

This article is probably the most comprehensive article I found during my research into the topic of homelessness in Sarasota. It is a long read though, so be forewarned. It’s a comprehensive look into the back and forth between the city, private consultants, and city leaders, as they struggle to find a solution to this growing problem.

Here are a few key highlights from the article.

Like warm-weather American cities many times its size, Sarasota has a serious and growing homeless problem. The homeless include families with children—many of them victims of the economy, who often find temporary shelter with relatives and are largely invisible to the public—and chronically homeless adults, who make up the highly visible street homeless. In all, roughly 1,700 individuals are homeless in Sarasota County, more than twice the national average for a population of our size. The percentage of homeless people in the city of Sarasota is estimated to be as high as six times the national average, with 250 to 400 chronically homeless men and women on its streets at any given time.

This article was written in 2014, and the numbers have only gotten worse. And there have been some serious Jerry Springer moments in the battle against homeless in Sarasota.

In 2006, the National Coalition for the Homeless memorably named Sarasota “America’s Meanest City” for its ordinances. In 2011, the national media reported on the city’s decision to remove the benches from downtown’s Five Points Park rather than allow the homeless to sit on them. In 2012, the story of a homeless man’s arrest for “theft of utilities” for charging his cell phone in Gillespie Park went viral. Not long after, police emails surfaced suggesting a law enforcement culture of “bum hunting,” followed by a video of an officer slamming a homeless man into a railing. Stung by lawsuits brought by the ACLU and relentlessly hounded by the downtown merchants to get the homeless off their stoops, local government last year called in an outsider for help.

Seriously, when you have time, read the full article on Sarasota Magazines website. It will boggle your mind how Sarasota has neglected this issue over the years.

Herald Tribune – 2013

Survey: 1,460 homeless adults in Sarasota County

In this article, Ian Cummings talks about the same study mentioned in the article above, and sites a correction to a study that showed only 1200 homeless in Sarasota. So you can see that this is a number the city is not proud of, and a number which is growing at an alarming rate.

Obviously not paying attention is not cutting it as a solution.

Some in the county propose throwing the homeless in jail, which is a solution that costs tens of thousands per inmate per year. A figure that this city could not sustain if they were to throw all of the homeless in jail.

How do we solve a problem like this in a city with weather as beautiful as Sarasota?

Leave your thoughts in the comments below.