Protecting the homeless becomes fight between Sarasota County, city leaders

The novel coronavirus has re-ignited a nearly 10-year-old argument over what to do about the homeless in Sarasota. The city wants the county to help shelter the homeless until the pandemic passes. But the sheriff says the city blew its chance years ago.

The city says it would like some help sheltering its homeless population but doesn’t have the resources to do it.

The sheriff says he offered a solution more than 7 years ago: a ‘come as you are’ shelter. But that never came to fruition and now it’s off the table.

Sarasota city manager Tom Barwin says over the last few weeks he and others have noticed large gatherings of transient individuals. Many are in groups because they go together to downtown food distribution sites.

Barwin said he's concerned there's no social distancing and that could spark an outbreak in an already vulnerable population.

Sheriff Tom Knight says the city had its chance to protect the homeless years ago.

“Any crisis brings opportunity. that was a missed opportunity where the people who are not being sheltered now that the city has concerns about being sheltered, rightfully so. That missed opportunity has now become a crisis inside the city of Sarasota," Sheriff Knight said.

Barwin released a statement, saying there is no homeless crisis in Sarasota and, in the last 3 years, the city has reduced homelessness by 50%.


"With $500,000 recently appropriated to Sarasota County from the federal government, through the cares act, for homelessness, we continue to ask that the unsheltered be sheltered during the pandemic. If that cannot be done, those with underlying medical conditions should be provided a hotel room where they can be isolated until the local public health emergency passes."

The Department of Health in Sarasota County says it already has a plan. One transient resident tested positive for COVID-19 and was given a hotel room and food in order to self-isolate until they are recovered.

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