Sarasota homeless getting hand up from sheriff's office

- Sarasota has been known to have a large homeless population. Now the Sarasota County Sheriff's Office is working to identify and help those who need it most.

A tarp for a cover and a cardboard box for a bed mark the places where the homeless hide from plain sight in Sarasota County. 

"This tent and this bed [weren't] here last time," case manager Nancy Williams pointed out. 

Williams is one of two case managers assigned to the Sarasota County Sheriff's Office Homeless Outreach Team, or HOT. 

"It is heartbreaking, absolutely heartbreaking. People don't deserve to live like this. They obviously have a story, something got them to that situation. We go out talk to them, find out their story and find out how we can help them," she said. 

It's estimated there are 1,400 homeless individuals in Sarasota County. Some don't want the help and chose this way of life. Williams believes that can't be true for everyone. 

"We ask them what their goals are and we try to meet them halfway. Our ultimate goal would be able to get them into housing, get them stabilized, but some people are not willing to do that. We just want to make sure we are educating them on the services available," she said. 

The HOT team started in June. In about four months they said they've connected with 300 individuals and have helped 80 get off of the streets of Sarasota. 

"Basically, you're a salesman no matter what you're doing. You're always selling and what we are trying to sell is for people to have an opportunity to improve themselves and their conditions," the sheriff's office's homeless coordinator, Bill Spitler said.

Spitler said their job is one that will never be finished, but they refuse to give up on those in need. 

"We can make it is as easy to help people through the struggles of life, one case at a time," he said.

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