In 2006, USA Today identified Sarasota, FL as the meanest city in America for how it deals with people who are homeless. Sarasota officials may have again earned top honors with a decision in May 2011.
Since 2006 homelessness has doubled in Sarasota, thanks to the economy, the real estate bust and more accurate counting. The problem is not going away as the housing foreclosure pipeline is still bursting at the seam. People without permanent housing, as well as other residents, are now denied a bench to sit on in Sarasota's newest public park.
The newly revamped Selby Five Points Park downtown had become a congregating place for people who rely on shelters for sleeping but have no place to call home during the day. Their presence made some people uncomfortable. At the insistence of some residents, the city removed all of the park benches in April and May, saying they will consider reinstalling them three months after a proposed smoking ban is enacted.
Earlier this year The Economist magazine wrote about homeless in Sarasota. One of the wealthiest cities in Florida, Sarasota continues to pull chairs out from under men and women who are homeless. A growing number of concerned citizens are making themselves heard. Please add your voice, whether you live in Sarasota, visit/vacation in Florida, or just want to ask how such a warm place can breed cold hearts.
The above photo taken May 22, 2011 depicts that the arts are very visible and celebrated in Sarasota, that people without a home of their own are right in front of us living in the shadows, and the symbol of the America that we want restored is almost lost in the background.
In April you reduced the number of benches in that park to prevent "massing." In May residents near the park said that people who are homeless monopolized remaining park seating. Who would have guessed that might happen?
Your removal of the last benches in the park responded to needs of residents from the "highest property tax value in the county." Since research shows that 75% of the people who are homeless are from the area, it is your responsibly to respond to the needs of these residents as well. People's basic needs are far more pressing than the nagging discomfort of people who are otherwise quite comfortable. Certainly you know that!
While not a solution to homelessness, returning all of the park benches would let folks who are hurting know that their city sees them as people. Please stand up for all Sarasota residents. Push back on those who would push poor residents away from a public park and sit down with a cross section of people impacted by homelessness and work on real solutions.