Manatee vets eye free bus passes for annual homeless stand down

BRADENTON -- Hundreds of homeless people came to the 16th annual Stand Down at the Manatee County Fairgrounds in Palmetto last year for food, showers, clothing, haircuts, health checks and job information.

Among them were many veterans.

One question area veterans have been pondering: What can be done to help those in dire need get to the stand down later this year?

A free bus pass, perhaps?

"The bottom line, in this case: If one homeless veteran uses a bus pass to get to the services, the program has been successful," Andy Hooker, president of the Sarasota Veterans Commission, told members of the Manatee Veterans Council on Thursday.

The only upfront cost for the stand-down passes would be for the printing, and as many as 1,000 passes should be printed, he said.

But before free passes can be handed out, vets would need the approval of county commissions in Manatee and Sarasota counties.

Sarasota vets have scheduled a meeting with their county commissioners, and Thursday, Manatee veterans said they would approach their commissioners as well.

"The whole motivation is to get these people to and from the services," Hooker said.

Carl Hunsinger, a member of the Manatee Veterans Council, agreed a joint veterans-pass system between the two counties would be an asset.

"I hope it goes through," he said.

Even though bus services might incur some costs for the free rides, Hooker said, it should ultimately be cost-efficient.

"Fewer homeless people on the street costs less money in the long run," Hooker said.

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