As we welcome 2016, the Sarasota Downtown Merchants Association (SDMA), like many of you, has established new goals and redefined our vision for the city we serve for the coming year.
First and foremost is the enduring challenge we face in managing the homeless and vagrant population on our city’s streets and in our parks.
And because the SDMA is here to serve you, we are facing this issue with even more resolve, but with a far gentler approach as we step up our efforts to eliminate panhandling in our city.
The “Downtown Cares” program that we launched in 2015 with money “banks” in downtown shops, restaurants and businesses will continue in the New Year with a more positive message, but with the same fundamental goal, which is to discourage community residents and city visitors from giving money to panhandlers on our streets.
The statistics have not changed: 93 percent of this “donated” money is used not for housing and food, but for drugs, alcohol and other illicit behaviors.
Perhaps what is most disturbing is the fact that many people that give cash to panhandlers are erroneously told that money is needed to receive food, clothing and shelter at The Salvation Army here in Sarasota.
Absolutely nothing could be further from the truth.
The Salvation Army, located at 1400 Tenth Street, has sponsored a comprehensive program designed to help homeless people get back on their feet. Called “QLife,” the program’s purpose is simple, yet straightforward as it strives “to achieve 100 percent quality of life for all” in Sarasota.
At The Salvation Army’s Center for Hope, three days “of comfort”—including food, clothing and a place to sleep—are provided to the homeless at no charge. Individuals who meet with a case worker each day can then stay for an additional four days. At the Quality of Life Center, specific goals are defined, and the person can extend his or her stay for yet another 21 days at no cost. The individual can stay even longer, contributing 30 percent of his or her income to The Salvation Army until appropriate housing has been found.
To support the life-changing opportunities available at The Salvation Army, the SDMA has established a new partnership with the organization to more extensively publicize its QLife services.
I hope you, too, will support and strengthen our partnership with The Salvation Army by taking a proactive approach in sharing this critical message with your customers: Giving money to panhandlers not only perpetuates the problem, but it keeps people on our streets and affects the quality of the downtown experience we all work so hard to uphold.
For additional information about QLife services and the many opportunities that are offered at The Salvation Army, please visit SRQLife.us.