Bradenton homeless center becomes hot-button issue for city council

jajones1@bradenton.comMarch 12, 2014 

The Bil Galvano One Stop Center serves the homeless population at a site across from McKechnie Field at 701 17th Ave. W.JAMES A. JONES JR./Bradenton Herald

BRADENTON -- More than eight years after voting to allow a homeless center to be built across from McKechnie Field where the Pittsburgh Pirates play spring training baseball, the Bradenton City Council is expressing concerns over what one council member called its "de facto expansion."

The Bill Galvano One Stop Center, 701 17th Ave. W., has acquired property immediately to the west to convert into storage space.

Plans are underway to reconfigure existing One Stop space into examining rooms and a pharmacy, said Councilman Bemis Smith, who pushed for a motion of concern about One Stop's changes in an entertainment district that includes McKechnie Field and Darwin Brewing Co. at 803 17th Ave. W.

William Lisch, city attorney, said the One Stop Center is allowed to use its new building for storage under city codes.

Tim Polk, planning director, said when the planning staff issues a permit it always checks to ensure renovations don't exceed what is allowed.

Polk acknowledged the One Stop Center had become a "hot-button" issue with the council, and said he regretted failing to brief council members sooner on proposed changes.

City staff will revisit the changes and issue a stop-work order if appropriate, Polk said.

Mayor Wayne Poston admonished Polk.

"You should have known this is a red flag," Poston said.

"In the future I will do that and I apologize," Polk said.

In December 2005, Bradenton City Council members voted 3-2 to approve the Bill Galvano One Stop Center location after several years of study and discussion on how to centralize services and eliminate the problem of homeless people and vagrants clustering along Tamiami Trail. At the time, 14th Street West was a magnet for people waiting to visit a soup kitchen or spend the night at the Salvation Army.

The three council members who approved the site -- James Golden, Michele Weaver and Marianne Barneby -- no longer sit on the council.

But the two who voted against the move, Smith and Gene Gallo, continue to serve, along with more recent members Patrick Roff, Harold Byrd and Gene Brown.

While there was almost universal agreement in 2005 that something needed to be done about the homeless problem, there was disagreement over what and where changes should be made.

About 180 business owners, employees and residents signed a petition opposing locating the One Stop Center across from McKechnie Field.

"I didn't believe it fit in that location," Gallo said. "I specifically remember the comment being made that if we grow, we go."

There are many county areas where homeless services would be more centrally located, Gallo said.

Adell Erozer, executive director of the One Stop Center, said services are not being expanded.

"We are already providing those services," she said.

And there is no certainty a pharmacy will be added, she said.

Students from Lake Erie College of Osteopathic Medicine from Lakewood Ranch already counsel clients about their medications and how to stop smoking. The space they are using is inadequate, Erozer said.

Community leaders, including the city council and county commission, researched possible sites for consolidating services for two years before settling on the location across from McKechnie Field, Erozer said.

One of the key criteria was the One Stop Center be located within walking distance, about one mile, of the Salvation Army's homeless shelter.

"It was meant to complement the shelter and it does," Erozer said. "When I first came here, about 95 percent of our clients were men. Now it's about 50-50 men and women. The face of homelessness has changed tremendously."

In 2013, 9,099 people came to the One Stop Center for services, not counting the roughly 100 children who accompany family members each month, she said.

Even so, the One Stop Center is not a round-the-clock magnet for homeless people. Open Door services are completed by 2 p.m. daily, and the center closes at 5 p.m., she said.

"We're good neighbors. We're always willing to work with people if there is a problem. We would hope the community would work to provide more affordable housing, either rental or permanent," Erozer said.

City Council members agreed the services provided by the One Stop Center are crucial but voted 5-0 to express concern about changes there.

"As the community grows, they are going to outgrow that area," Councilman Harold Byrd said. "We need to start having an open discussion about how we serve the homeless population as the county moves into the future."

Wednesday's discussion was not lost on audience member John Chappie, a county commissioner, who said the county and city need to work together on the issue.

"One Stop is one of the best facilities in the state. We have to work together for a solution," Chappie said.

James A. Jones Jr., Herald reporter, can be contacted at 941-745-7053 or on Twitter@jajones1.

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