The Suncoast Partnership to End Homelessness is best known for statistics.
Every year the Sarasota-based organization, whose mission is to end homelessness in Manatee and Sarasota counties, conducts a 24-hour “Point-in-Time” survey during which the number of homeless is recorded across the two counties.
But when asked for an indelible memory of her work as its leader, Leslie Loveless remembers a standout person, not a standout statistic.
After five years as executive director of the organization, Loveless, who was also a founding board member of the agency, announced she plans to retire in March.
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“I met a middle-aged woman who stopped in the office to get a service directory,” Loveless said. “She was clean and neatly dressed but obviously exhausted. She said that she was very fortunate to still have her car to sleep in because not everyone who experiences homelessness does. Because of medical problems she lost a professional job and license, and was unable to work for two years.
“Now that she was better, her homeless status makes employers reluctant to engage with her. She was on her way to have lunch at the Remnant Cafe and was hoping that she would get some work sorting garbage at the recycling facility down the road. She didn’t want a handout, but a hand-up.”
When I joined the board, The Suncoast Partnership to End Homelessness was struggling. The challenges were many. Through Leslie's leadership, knowledge and guidance the partnership has made real and important progress in efforts to assist our local homeless citizens. She has strengthened and grown our Continuum of Care and significantly increased funding for numerous nonprofits.
Elisa Graber on Leslie Loveless
The story of the homeless woman reminds Loveless that if she had the power to make any change she wanted for the homeless in Manatee and Sarasota counties before she leaves, it would be to shift attitudes.
“What I would do doesn’t cost anything,” Loveless said. “I would open the minds and hearts of more people in the community and help them see that the homeless are fellow human beings, not untouchables.”
Her work will continue
Loveless said she will work with the partnership’s board and her staff to create a smooth transition. For instance, she is already working with Turning Points on the 2017 “Point-in-Time” Survey, which will be on Jan. 23.
“At this time the board and I are working out timelines and process,” Loveless said when asked what lies ahead for the agency. “In late February we will have more information.”
Homelessness in Manatee and Sarasota counties increased from 2015 to 2016, according to the 24-hour “Point-in-Time” survey conducted on Jan. 25, 2016.
There were 497 homeless people counted in Manatee and 971 in Sarasota.
The overall number of homeless grew in one year by 270, with 201 more people in Manatee County and 69 more in Sarasota County.
Of the people counted, the 29-page report states 66 percent were in Sarasota County and 34 percent in Manatee County.
Roughly 170 volunteers took part in the 2016 survey, which is part of a national effort.
Loveless ‘strengthened Partnership,’ says board member
Elisa Graber, a past Suncoast Partnership Board chairwoman, said Loveless has strengthened partnership since November 2012, when she was named interim director.
“When I joined the board, the Suncoast Partnership to End Homelessness was struggling,” Graber said. “The challenges were many. Through Leslie’s leadership, knowledge and guidance the partnership has made real and important progress in efforts to assist our local homeless citizens. She has strengthened and grown our Continuum of Care and significantly increased funding for numerous nonprofits.”
Jackie McNeil, the office manager at partnership, praised Loveless for her grant writing skills, which have helped the agency get local, state and federal funding, and her leadership.
“Leslie has always understood the maxim, ‘Together we are stronger,’” McNeil said. “I believe it comes from her counseling background to create a safe environment for people to share their thoughts.”