1,000 Manatee homeless to be offered shelter from Irma

Manatee County’s homeless population, estimated to be about 1,000, will be offered shelter from potentially deadly winds and flooding this weekend by way of a brand new plan debuting for Hurricane Irma.

The 2017 Homeless Evacuation Sheltering Plan was created by the Manatee County Emergency Management Division, Turning Points, Salvation Army, the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office, Manatee County Area Transit and Manatee Code Enforcement after a year of working together, Steve Litschauer, the operation section chief for Emergency Management, said Thursday.

“It was birthed after we saw a need during Hurricane Matthew last year, and this is the first time it will actually be used,” Litschauer added.

The way the plan works is that homeless individuals can get a free MCAT bus ride from five homeless evacuation pickup sites to a local hurricane evacuation shelter, where they can stay throughout the storm.

The homeless evacuation pickup sites where they can get rides include: The Salvation Army, 1204 14th St. W., Bradenton; Turning Points, 701 17th Ave. W., Bradenton; MCAT Bus Depot, DeSoto Station, 820 301 Blvd. W., Bradenton; Manatee County Sheriff’s Office, District 2, 407 57th Ave. E., Bradenton; and the Palmetto Police Department, 1115 10th St. W., Palmetto.

The buses will begin to pick up needy passengers from noon to 7 p.m. Saturday, Litschauer said.

“The buses will not just be waiting there,” Litschauer added. “They will be called in when they are needed.”

It was birthed after we saw a need during Hurricane Matthew last year and this is the first time it will actually be used.

Steve Litschauer, Manatee County Emergency Management

Although the homeless can get a ride to a shelter, if one is within walking distance they are urged to just go on their own where they will be welcome, Litschauer added.

“The key is everyone has to follow the shelter rules,” Litschauer said. “There’s no drinking or drugs in shelters, and if they have pets they must go to a pet-friendly shelter.”

The plan is compassionate and thoughtful, said Margi Dawson, a spokeswoman for Turning Points, one of the five pickup sites.

“This is happening because these agencies thought ahead,” Dawson said Thursday.

Although about 3 percent of homeless individuals live in their cars or vans, most have difficulty with transportation and may not be able to reach a hurricane evacuation shelter in a timely manner without transportation assistance, Litschauer said.

The bus rides will be wheelchair accessible, but, for safety, must be suspended when local winds reach 40 miles per hour.

For information on the plan: 941-749-3500 or mymanatee.org/emergency.

Richard Dymond: 941-745-7072, @RichardDymond