Sarasota homeless nightmare hurts tourism, property values

Editor & Publisher

We have a real disconnect going on between Longboat Key and Sarasota.

While we are busy on Longboat Key talking about threats to business, tourism and property values from the closing of the Colony and aging infrastructure, the real immediate threat can be found right now in the streets in and around Sarasota.

The real and immediate and profound threat comes from the epidemic of begging and roadside solicitation and sidewalk squatting that has turned the very jewel that has evolved over the past 20 years — vibrant Downtown Sarasota —into an unpredictable jungle  — a baby Bangladesh outside of Mattison’s Restaurant every evening.

And that is not cruel or insensitive. What is cruel is to do nothing and allow the situation to worsen and worsen until we see the escalation of both violence and polarized, inferior solutions.

To put it in blunt terms: today’s buyer of million dollar properties and visitors from afar on vacation does not want the first introduction as they drive from the airport to be the three Charles Mansons and one Charles Mansonette who hold up a sign at U.S. 41 and the Ringling Bridge Causeway saying, “I am a sociopath, God Bless…”

But whose fault is this sudden erosion in public policy and policing?

The answer is the City, its management, its laws, its enforcement and its lack of consistent and cogent policy.

And the City enforcing no regulations because it is in fear of lawsuits is making Sarasota a more dangerous place day by day.

First, the homeless are growing bolder and their approaches are more direct and consistent. It is only a matter of time before a violent altercation between a resident and a homeless person exacerbates all the emotions over the issue.

And that brings up another concern.

It is reasonable to say that possibly dozens if not hundreds of Sarasotans who have grown sick of the problem have bought concealed weapons and permits to carry to make themselves feel safer.

If taxpayers do not feel protected by the City of Sarasota and the homeless make them feel threatened, the natural response is to start to take matters into your own hands. That is the City’s fault for letting us down from a legal point of view in having so-called indefensible rules, letting us down by having the City Manager bungle the process he was trying to use to solve the issue, and the City let us down by having no clear direction or policy or framework going forward.

It has been called a “paralysis” in the press. But that is not entirely accurate. Part of the problem is we have that horrible visage of good intentions married with inane bungling by the City Manager. While info gathering as he called it on the homeless issue, he asked for solutions and implementable methods that could become policy.  So in the process he left the City legally exposed for trying to solve a problem out of the Sunshine or secretly or in the shade as others like to say.

So that has the City Attorney trying to settle. But the City Attorney has his heels all worn out after fighting attacks over the past years on many of the city’s ordinances used to control nuisance behaviors and activities.

So now the City is doing nothing. No arrests for solicitation. No keeping begging out of the medians and no keeping people from squatting all over Main Street. We are all waiting until a lawsuit is settled and new language for ordinances is crafted.

The City Attorney is right now drafting new language to be presented to the City Commission in May to address many of these issues. The goal is to have legally defensible language says the Assistant City Manager.


But on Longboat Key we ought not stand idly by and hope the City solves this issue. My personal belief is we need tough as nails ordinances met with tremendous and strategic investments in the social infrastructure. In other words, if you want to be tough you must spend the money on policing as well as solutions and strategies for the underlying social issues.

The inner Republican in me says, “I have six children and a wife and if someone approaches my car I am far more interested in removing them as a threat than anything else.”

The inner liberal says, “This community area is only as strong as its weakest link and the true measure of society is how it treats those who for some reason cannot fit in or make it.”

In this paper we are going to continue to focus on this issue. It is an urgent situation.

The City of Sarasota needs to move rapidly to adopt tough laws to discourage and stop a behavior that will devalue the very taxpayers who must pay to fix the problem. Longboat Key residents, visitors and taxpayers may think they can only watch in frustration as the City of Sarasota tries to figure this out. We would all be wise to pay attention since the laws are being written right now and we have to get them right.

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18 Responses for “Sarasota homeless nightmare hurts tourism, property values”

  1. Jeff Redding says:

    Is it strange that in Sarasota a homeless veteran can be thrown in jail for “obstructing the sidewalk” but it is OK for the FDOT to obstruct the sidewalk with 50 lamp posts on Bee Ridge.

  2. J. Durbin says:

    Yesterday I saw a man standing in front of the Longboat Key Club holding a sign that read ” Need Health Insurance”

  3. Susan says:

    The situation is out of control! One individual claims to make an average if $300 a day! Tax free!! Another works at a Publix deli. These groups are organized. I see more tourists giving money than locals who have kept up with the situation. One lady accepted a $20 from the car in front of me (which caused us all to miss our left turn signal). She then ran through the intersection, handed it to a guy on the opposite corner and returned to her “station”. Something needs to be done! There are organizations in town that help people who are homeless and want help. However, they must be willing to follow the rules. If people want to help, then volunteer or give to a program that can help people that want a hand up and not a hand out.

  4. spencer ross says:

    Ghostrider, I respect your generosity, however, you miss the point. The City of Sarasota
    is negligent in allowing these people to walk amongst traffic begging for money. Many self-made individuals started out with nothing but did not get by there by standing on the corner holding a sign.
    Panhandling is not the solution for poverty. Sarasota should implement a job training program or let these people earn money doing much needed maintenace around town.

  5. Ghostrider says:

    These commentaries and responses always fascinate me. Who among you collect Medicaid? None. Who among you know someone who does? None. Are all these people panhandlers? Should they be transported to another area to preserve the pristine quality of yours?

    All of you are self-made individuals? There were no affluent parents or generous grand-parents. There were no inheritances or financial manipulations.

    You’re not willing to give that man a quarter that approaches you as “insurance”, but, you’ll pay someone to fill out your taxes as insurance, against the government, with the understanding that he accompanies you to an audit. Unfortunately my tax attorney wants more than a twenty-five cents.

    You live in one of America’s most affluent enclaves and you’re in denial how the other half live. That’s not your problem you say. Of course it is. The panhandlers knows you are being exploited by the gardener, the pool man, the veterinarian, the gas station…..Trust me. The panhandler is the least of your problems. Worry about the roofer after the big hurricane who wants $2500 to replace four broken tiles on your roof. Worry about the tree trimmer who wants $14,000 to clean up the fallen ficus. You have no idea what awaits you after a major storm.

    FYI, I give them a dollar when I am approached. They did not wake up to my view nor will they have my afternoon walk.
    It’s cheap insurance against the future, neighbor.

    See you at Harry’s.

  6. William Kary says:

    Spencer, tushay!

  7. spencer ross says:

    William. You are correct, however, I guess the sign thief of LBK has stolen the panhandlers signs as well

  8. William Kary says:

    There already here, Ever been to an event on LBK where there is FREE FOOD offered. I have witnessed worse manners than at any soup kitchen where I have donated my time…

  9. John Wild says:

    I remain unconvinced that these so-caled “homeless” with the standardized format signs (many ending with God Bless) are indeed without a home. I hear anecdotal stories about panhandlers leaving their “duty station” and walking to a nearby parking lot where they get into Audis, Nissans, Hondas, etc.
    I’m waiting for some enterprising journalist to actually track some of this itinerant behavior – Spencer Ross is right, Sarasota government dithers while tourism wanes. Thankfully, LBK has few traffic lights and medians to attract them. Like the signs read in the national parks “Do Not Feed the Bears”, so maybe we need something like that. Sadly, the giving nature of some has created a feeding frenzy that harms all.

  10. spencer ross says:

    William. So not to “pawn off” these panhandlers, why don’t we invite them onto LBK. The problem exists because Sarasota has a history of being overly accepting of these folks. Go to Naples, you won’t see this down there.

  11. William Kary says:

    I am truly shocked by the audacity of anyone suggesting a “bus” ticket out of here so that we will not have to face our society’s lack of addressing issues. What’s next, we become disenchanted with the ethnic mix of Sarasota and provide bus tickets to reach an acceptable balance as well? To even make a suggestion that we “pawn” off our problems to another community really makes me question the ethics of the individual who makes the suggestion. If you would prefer not to deal with then buy your own bus ticked to Pensacola, but I feel they would be on the short end of the shipment.

  12. Reece Pierce says:

    I highly recommend that someone from the City to contact the authorities or City Manager of Ft. Lauderdale as it is my understanding that they have recently outlawed panhandling in the streets due to a person or person(s) being killed while doing so. This issue is not just about taxpayer rights or property values. This issue is mostly about doing what is right for all citizens involved. Many of these people have mental disorders that are not being taken care of these days because they are very difficult and expensive. Taking better care of mental illness in this country is not only a need for this issue but also for the senseless violence that seems to be epidemic. In addition, the people who are homeless or needy have many avenues for assistance that our tax dollars pay for and if they do not choose to avail themselves of these services for the sake of their freedoms, then that is their choice but it should not be at the expense of our public safety or the enjoyment that we are denied when they take over our tax funded parks and public areas. My business depends upon tourism and I am embarrassed every time I have to explain to my clients why this problem has developed in Sarasota and I am also concerned for repeat future business that may suffer as well. Again, Ft. Lauderdale may have good law that we could possibly use to solve the street panhandler problem.

  13. Howard says:

    We are unable to judge the circumstances of others without knowing the fact-specifics for each person. Thankfully we are not in their situation, if, truly, the inviduals are homeless. Otherwise, there is always a one way bus ticket to Pensacola.

  14. Georgie McFarland says:

    Most if not all of these pan handler’s on the medians are scam artists who decided it’s more profitable to not work and suppliment their entitlements by part-time panhandling. My favorite cardboard sign I saw yesterday was presented by one of the streetwalkers on North 41 which said “buy me” I’m unemployed.

  15. William Kary says:

    John: When you are sleeping in a field, behind a dumpster or in an abandoned car and don’t have the means to even clean up for the interview, let alone transportation to get to the “job”, you can hand out all the applications you want to. As in interesting exercise, put your name in the reference column and let’s see where that gets you. Unfortunately you would probably be cited for “litter” as that is exactly what your “exercise” in social conscience is contributing to… If people didn’t “contribute” to the “median solicitors” capitalism would take its course. Why would I “work” if it wasn’t a profitable venture?

  16. Howard Gilbert says:

    You are correct. It’s fight or flight. Tourist are not looking for a fight they will go else where.residents will do the same. I suggest that the abandonment of the streets to thugs,gangs or those that threaten the peaceful existence and use of the sidewalks and streets leads to one result the decline and decay of the area . The city must respond and insist that the sidewalks and streets are kept peaceful. They may need to be creative and maybe costly, but the goal is clear and immediate. This situation didn’t happen overnight it has festered and has escalated over time. Civil litigation is a concern but it is a predictable consequence of policing the situation. It may be costly but it cannot compare to the damage caused by abandonment of the streets to thugs,gangs and agressive people ,homeless or otherwise. Dead cities are bad for everyone. Private enterprise can help by hiring additional security to assist. More cameras can help. Perhaps the governor needs to send in the State police or national guard. Declare an emergency. To wait till May to draft and debate an ordinance displays a callous indifference to the need for action. Act now. Yes, it’s that important! Bravo Stephen Reid.

  17. spencer ross says:

    If tourism is to grow, the new Sarasota police chief needs to get rid of these panhandlers, clean up Trail North to rid it of the street walkers and drug dealers and Fred Picolo needs some business 101 on how to bring back the major airlines he lost during his tenure. Maybe LBK could also create a job position
    “Director of Marketing”.

  18. John Wild says:

    I have found that handing these median solicitors with “a suspiciously coincidental hand lettered sign on cardboard’ a plain white, sealed envelope quite satisfying. Inside each envelope is either an application for employment at McDonalds, Wal-Mart or wherever I may be when I see a stack of them to pick up and distribute. I would suggest your readers consider doing this also. Most of these people appear fit enough for work, and strangely organized. You’d suspect they might even be coordinated, inasmuch as all four corners seeming experience a “shift change” and nobody seems to contest a “good corner” when their relief appears for duty. If they truly want work, a job application should be helpful.

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