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Groups: Bradenton is 'mean' to the homeless

MANATEE — The issue is places to live for people on the street.

Bradenton and Manatee County do not have nearly enough temporary roofs despite what a leader says are the good works of homeless advocates, law enforcement, churches and other concerned citizens, and now the area has come under national scrutiny.

For the first time, the Washington, D.C.-based National Coalition for the Homeless and National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty have labeled the Bradenton area one of the 10 “meanest cities” in the U.S. in treatment of the homeless. The organization labeled the Bradenton area primarily because of the lack of temporary homeless shelters, and laws that allow jailing of the homeless when no shelter is available.

“That’s as mean as it gets,” said Michael Stoops, executive director of the Coalition.

Adell Erozer was surprised her town and county were called out, but once she read the full report, she was pleased that a larger voice had joined the chorus of concerned local residents on the shelter issue.

“How could they say that about Bradenton when we work so hard with the agencies and law enforcement to make this work?” said Erozer, executive director of the Community Coalition on Homelessness in Manatee County.

The national and local coalitions are not related, but Erozer heard from the Washington, D.C. group before the hundred-page report was issued. The report “Highlights 10 meanest cities and constructive alternatives.”

Stoops told the Bradenton Herald the organization in the nation’s capital did its homework “so this wouldn’t be seen like an agency inside the Beltway” talking about a local issue.

Added Erozer: “But when I looked at the report, it was clear what they were advocating: There is not enough shelter space, so the homeless have to live in public places, which our laws prohibit.”

Deputies and officers transport people on the street to shelters.

Erozer told a story of a newly homeless woman, who had lost her job and home, trying to get into the Salvation Army shelter, which gives priority to families with children.

“Almost in every case, that woman is not going to find shelter,” Erozer said.

There are other ways, like “the wonderful Family Promise program,” where eight churches and 14 others as backup locations take in homeless families, she said.

“But it’s drop in the bucket to the enormity of the local issue,” Erozer said.

At last count, the Manatee County homeless coalition served 2,536 homeless clients in the second quarter of 2009, “a low number” because some agencies don’t participate in the count, Erozer said.

Not mentioned in the national coalition report was the positive working relationship between local agencies and law enforcement, the churches’ Family Promise or the One Stop Resource Center, which opened March 9 and serves the needs of the homeless.

A statement from the city of Bradenton said, “This report did not mention anything about the One Stop Resource Center for the homeless, which the city and county collaborated on.”

Also, “This report the coalition did is only based on the no-lodging ordinance, which does not single out homeless people,” the statement said.

Of the One Stop Resource Center, Erozer said, “It’s a huge help. All the services are in one place. But, on the other hand, our big frustration is, if you want to address the homeless issue, the big frustration is housing.”

She called on leaders in Bradenton and Manatee County to step up.

“There needs to be a concerted effort by the powers that be to have more housing for the homeless. It’s reached that point with this economy.

“The issue is more mainstream. Both Manatee and Sarasota must take a look at the issue.”

The National Coalition for the Homeless have, in St. Petersburg and Orlando, brought lawsuits to help the homeless. Asked what the national coalition wanted Manatee authorities to do immediately, he said call a moratorium on arrests of homeless people when there are no shelters available.

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