Idea for new homeless shelter raises questions

At the very same time that Manatee County and the city of Bradenton are working together to renovate McKechnie Field, both are also in discussions about a vastly different kind of development in the same neighborhood. The two appear to be at odds with one another.

One, the venerable ballpark, is home to spring training for the Pittsburgh Pirates and the short season of the Bradenton Marauders -- a place that attracts thousands of visitors and baseball fans. The other is the idea for a “low demand” homeless shelter in the vicinity of the Bill Galvano One Stop Center, which offers a variety of social services and support to the homeless through the Community Coalition on Homelessness and Our Daily Bread.

There’s no discounting the intractable issue of homelessness. The One Stop Center served more than 6,500 people last year, though not all were homeless. Across Florida, some 60,000 adults and 50,000 children are out on the street, according to the state Council on Homelessness.

Community concern for the homeless was demonstrated two weeks ago when more than 100 people attended a public forum to discuss potential sites for a shelter and additional resources to combat homelessness. Adell Erozer, the executive director of the Community Coalition on Homelessness, has a proven solution: stable, safe housing followed by substance abuse treatment, should that be needed. But the county lacks such housing.

Why propose a low-demand shelter when other temporary shelters exist? Manatee County has data from 16 service providers that indicates at least 208 homeless people spent 115 nights at a shelter last year. Is there enough demand for another temporary shelter? And don’t shelters provide temporary treatment and not solutions to homelessness?

Or is the idea to simply sweep the homeless away from Riverwalk and keep them from sleeping in the bushes around downtown and hanging out in the Central Library? With construction on the $6.2 million Riverwalk project expected to be completed in the fall, is that the consideration?

And why this location for another shelter? With Village of the Arts just to the north and city redevelopment plans for the entire neighborhood yet to reach fruition, the $7.5 million McKechnie Field project is designed to boost that revitalization effort. The Riverwalk project is another linchpin in Bradenton’s strategy -- both superb efforts we strongly advocate.

The “if you build it, they will come” idea should prove true for both projects. But will another shelter do the same for the homeless?

Businesses around McKechnie and One Stop already complain about the current large homeless population in the neighborhood being detrimental to their enterprises. This should be a part of the conversation, too, as this idea moves forward.

The homeless issue merits great concern. As does the location of a new shelter. The site near McKechnie, however, conflicts with city goals.