BRADENTON -- Bradenton City Council members Wednesday defended their opposition to any expansion of the Bill Galvano One Stop Center in Bradenton.
The center, 701 17th Ave. W., is a one-stop center for free medical, dental and other services for the homeless. It opened in early 2009 after almost a decade of civic, private and religious community efforts to address the city's growing homeless population.
At a Wednesday workshop, council members reacted strongly to what they called a misperception of their opposition to a center expansion proposal.
The discussion was sparked by a presentation from former Turning Points Board Chairman Steve Wilson.
"I'm just here to congratulate and thank the city for its development efforts to enhance downtown Bradenton," he said.
Wilson did suggest the city take the homeless population into consideration in future development proposals. Wilson said the city could adopt a philosophy designed to address problems faced by some 2,000 homeless children in greater Manatee County and the mentally ill homeless who want to work but cannot due to a lack of marketable skills.
"This is not an easy culture we live in," said Wilson. "Ignoring the homeless is not going to solve any problems. All it's going to do is increase suffering."
Ward 1 Councilman Gene Gallo said the city should hold fast to its opposition to expansion of the One Stop Center.
"The parameters surrounding that expansion need to be upheld," said Gallo. "It was built in an entertainment district. It's an area that the city had a vision for that didn't include that type of operation."
Gallo acknowledged the center helps a tremendous number of people and: "Yes, we need to help those people."
Ward 3 Councilman Patrick Roff said if he was on the council when the site was considered, he would have voted against its location across the street from McKechnie Field and next door to a soon-to-open microbrewery. He also said he would likely oppose any expansion of services at the One Stop Center, but called it a "world-class example of how to do things right."
The solution, he said, was to have Manatee County help build two more facilities in strategic areas.
"This is what a community should do," he said. "We should be taking care of our weakest."
Vice Mayor Bemis Smith ran the meeting in the absence of Mayor Wayne Poston. Smith said the city has to deal with land-use issues surrounding the center "but at the core of it is we have never been against the center."
Smith said it's not a good location for the center, considering the city is "pumping a lot of money" into an area it is promoting as a "party environment."
Wilson asked for the city to make its decision with one thought in mind.
"We are people who are called to ease the suffering of the hurting and poor," said Wilson. "God is concerned about the hurting and the poor and we should be, too."
No vote has been scheduled on the proposal to expand the homeless center.
Mark Young, Herald urban affairs reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7041 or follow him on Twitter @urbanmark2014.