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Mayor: 'I Don't Feel Comfortable Downtown Anymore'

Sarasota Mayor Suzanne Atwell tells the commission and public that the aggressive vagrant population makes her uncomfortable walking the downtown streets.

Sarasota's issue with aggressive transient and vagrant populations in its downtown core has prompted a strong reaction from the city's mayor.

"I don't feel comfortable downtown anymore," Mayor Suzanne Atwell said at the City Commission meeting Monday night.

The remarks were part of Atwell's commentary on the conditions of safety and security downtown stemming from an aggressive transient and vagrant population that is

Atwell, a clinical psychologist who has worked with the homeless, points out that the folks downtown near the library and Five Points Park are in a different category, aggressively soliciting passers-by, or as others have witnessed, fighting other vagrants or threatening strangers.

"I have gone there, and as a woman — I've heard all the stories — it's a personal space issue," Atwell said. "We feel threatened."

"This has reached a new level," Atwell continued. "It is not about the homeless issue ... it's an in-your-face thing."

is responding by reassigning an officer starting Wednesday, to be a transient coordinator, said Capt. Wade McVay. The temporary assignment will be a day/night assignment to address homeless issues, work with the and , he said.

The police department will also adjust security cameras to monitor activity around the library and also have another camera observe Five Points Park, McVay said.

The scene around Selby Library and Five Points Park is becoming common and disturbing to residents. Folks sleeping on the sidewalk with their lives in a bag nearby, smoking on a no-smoking library campus, drinking, and aggressively asking for money. The city will look at ways to strengthen its laws on obstructing the sidewalks to help officers have power to get people to leave.

"There are a number of ordinaces they're violating," Commissioner Terry Turner said.

The city attorney's office will work with the county attorney's office, since the library is county property, to review the city's trespassing policies and other laws, and what Sarasota Police can do for the county at the library, City Attorney Robert Fournier said.

Part of the security issue, is abandoned personal belongings, Deputy City Manager Marlon Brown said.

Commissioner Shannon Snyder agrees, fearing the worst of what could be contained in an abandon bag that nobody bothered to report as suspicious.

"In the world that we live in today, the apathy towards Homeland Security and terrorism and suicide bombing — sorry, there shouldn't be anything on the side of the road," he said. "Load it up in a Gator, take it down there and put it in a garbage bag. I don't care how bad they whine about it."

McVay added that the police would like to see advice or ordinance language to clear up how those items can be handled.

"Right now we're taking it putting into our property section but right now there's only so much room for that," he said.

No specific ordinances are being prepared or re-examined at this time, Fournier said.

Fournier added he is also studying the , but is not clear on the history of issues that city had to influence to put those laws into place.

Dash Riprock August 22, 2012 at 05:32 PM
Don't you understand that many Sarasota residents fled here from depressed Northern cities and economies so as not to have to look at human suffering? If we're going to allow these homeless to clutter up downtown at least demand some aesthetic enhancements, perhaps by offering them meals or incentives to dress as, say, circus performers. Who doesn't like the circus, especially with its tie-ins to local history?
Dash Riprock August 22, 2012 at 05:34 PM
Libertarians are tools.
Hawkeye August 22, 2012 at 05:35 PM
Dash... trying to be cute?
Brian Braun August 22, 2012 at 06:20 PM
I wonder if the mayor ever drives over to our neighborhood, if she thinks some aggressive panhandling is bad, I suggest she drive over to Indian Beach and watch the prostitution and crack dealing that goes on out in the open for a couple hours when she decides on where she is beefing up the police presence.
cherylwithac August 22, 2012 at 06:34 PM
Dash Riprock, you're one cruel SOB for suggesting that the homeless--most of whom are mentally ill--should dress up like circus clowns. You should be ashamed of yourself.
Brian Braun August 22, 2012 at 06:42 PM
Brian Braun 2:40 pm on Wednesday, August 22, 2012 Maybe all the homeless people should be dumped in Indian Beach with the crack dealers and prostitutes that operate out in the open in plain site. They will fit right in over here, and you don't hear a peep about that. Maybe the Mayor should visit some of her other constituents that also vote and pay taxes that have much bigger problems than some bums smoking cigarettes at the library and peeing in bushes. Last year I had to actually shoe hookers away from my kids bus stop in the mornings... and the city did absolutely nothing about that... We need the Mayor to come over here and feel truly uncomfortable.
Hawkeye August 22, 2012 at 06:46 PM
Thank you nCheryl...as I stated, all these personal attacks and negativity does not solve anything, but brings out how ignorant we are as human beings. How do they know that some of the homeless have not served in Viet Nam...or were drafted.. and saw their friends blown up. I'd like to see every male who has posted a negative comment, be drafted, be handed a gun and see their friends face blown away...
Richard M. Swier August 22, 2012 at 06:53 PM
Hawkeye, I served in Vietnam with the 101st Airborne Division during Tet of 1968. I saw what you described and much more. That has nothing to do with this conversation at all. The issue is the individual being responsible and acting responsibly. Being a bum is not acting responsibly. I do not care what horrible life experiences someone may have had, it is wrong to act irresponsibly. I would very much like to see the draft come back. I see too many young people acting irresponsibly with no purpose in life. Serving one's country in our military is both needed and the right thing to do. Sadly, only 30% of all our youth would qualify under the current enlistment standards. That shows you how bad our future is. Learning service above oneself is part of being an American. We owe this country that much. As JFK said, "Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country."
Richard M. Swier August 22, 2012 at 06:58 PM
Hawkeye, My answer for bums is simple: get a job! Get it?
Brian Braun August 22, 2012 at 06:58 PM
That is so wrong... yet so so funny
Brian Braun August 22, 2012 at 07:03 PM
We need a mayor we can actually elect, besides this revolving door of cronyism we currently have. Correct me if I am wrong, but isn't our mayor appointed after having served on the city council?
PG August 22, 2012 at 07:07 PM
Richard - you've shown us that you are very good at Googling quotes from the 19th century that agree with your position. COngratulations. Even if some of them contradict your position, we know you can copy & paste. ("If you wish to prosper, let your customer prosper" seems to be at odds with your other statements about maximizing profit, or not having an issue with all the jobs going overseas). Also, unlike many of those of your viewpoint, Bastiat warned us to consider the LONG TERM effects of any economic decisions. WHat we see now is that those on the Right can only look from month to month, or quarter to quarter. They can only see what is right in front of them, here & now. What are the long term consequences of maximizing short term profit by shipping our jobs overseas? We're seeing it now, aren't we? You are NOT serious in thinknig that Your employer has less control over your life than a GS-1 level mailroom employee at the Bureau of Indian Affairs? Can you explain how that "lowest government bureaucrat" has more influence over Your life? So let's hear it. What is Your plan? Put all the homeless to work. How are you going to do it? Spewing slogans & treating the homeless in your condescending manner isn't going to get the job done.
Brian Braun August 22, 2012 at 07:11 PM
Yeah, send them out to my neighborhood where they hack each other up with Machete's ... No thanks you can keep them all over there ..
Brian Braun August 22, 2012 at 07:15 PM
Damn straight !
Brian Braun August 22, 2012 at 07:17 PM
The occupy movement is a joke, I think the RNC can handle a few stupid hippies protesting from hundreds of feet away, hell they don't even know what they are protesting.
Dash Riprock August 22, 2012 at 07:25 PM
Cheryl, forgive me, I was mocking the effete sensibilities of those offended by the homeless, not honestly suggesting we dress them up. That would just be another way of not seeing them, you see?
Hawkeye August 22, 2012 at 07:40 PM
*PG; I've more respect for your comment, more so, than any post in the room. Thank you so much for the post. Richard: In lieu of the most intilligent post to date on the homeless subject, an encore is well warranted. "Richard - you've shown us that you are very good at Googling quotes from the 19th century that agree with your position. COngratulations. Even if some of them contradict your position, we know you can copy & paste. ("If you wish to prosper, let your customer prosper" seems to be at odds with your other statements about maximizing profit, or not having an issue with all the jobs going overseas). Also, unlike many of those of your viewpoint, Bastiat warned us to consider the LONG TERM effects of any economic decisions. WHat we see now is that those on the Right can only look from month to month, or quarter to quarter. They can only see what is right in front of them, here & now. What are the long term consequences of maximizing short term profit by shipping our jobs overseas? We're seeing it now, aren't we? You are NOT serious in thinknig that Your employer has less control over your life than a GS-1 level mailroom employee at the Bureau of Indian Affairs? Can you explain how that "lowest government bureaucrat" has more influence over Your life? So let's hear it. What is Your plan? Put all the homeless to work. How are you going to do it? Spewing slogans & treating the homeless in your condescending manner isn't going to get the job done."
virginia hoffman August 22, 2012 at 07:44 PM
Hey I thought the Tube Dude was supposed to be giving them jobs, what happened with that plan. :)
Mme. d'Estape August 23, 2012 at 02:50 PM
Correction: I misspoke above - the correct name of the big backer of rightwing nutjobbery is Sheldon Adelson - surely one of Mr. Swier's heroes, as we know Mr. Swier to be a big backer of israeli aggression towards Iran. More about Mr. Adelson here http://www.richardsilverstein.com/tikun_olam/2008/06/25/sheldon-adelson-crazy-jewish-billionaire/
Hawkeye August 23, 2012 at 02:55 PM
Not funny Virginia... we're trying to come to terms of a 'permanent' solution, not just the ususal; 'right wing' approach, by placing them in a shelter. We need jobs Virginia... we need job placement programs. Less Walmarts and more American and not Chinese jobs...
Hawkeye August 23, 2012 at 02:56 PM
Mme. d'Estape... excellent post!
Dan Quarteran August 25, 2012 at 03:32 AM
Setting aside issues of housing costs (which place many at disadvantage to lead more normal lives) and the lack of broader employment opportunities (which most everyone would agree is at the heart of existing with a more engaged concept of community connection)... What's going on here with many (not all) SRQ downtown homeless is something distinctly different from where things have been in past decades from my experiences around the country. There's something deeply dystopian in a social sense. Sort of generalizing here, but there are attitudes of resentment, assumptions of entitlement, and a spirit of survival among the more extroverted or aggressive of this population. Maybe others who are older or more passive or just plain beaten down by life have a little less with these patterns, but their thinking is often sourced from the same basic characterizations.
Richard M. Swier August 25, 2012 at 09:27 AM
What makes housing cost so much in Sarasota County are: 1) restrictive zoning laws; 2) a County Commission and staff that are anti-growth and therefore prevent development; 3) the government (city, county, state and federal) own over 30% of all land in the county. The less land the more expensive the remaining land is. Lastly a note on public housing. The great myth is that public housing is somehow better than renting from private individuals. This has been show to be wrong at every level. Without an owner property, especially public housing, goes down hill with crime, lack of maintenance and finally the residents never taking responsibility for maintaining their home because someone else (e.g. the government) will.
Happy Jack August 25, 2012 at 10:14 AM
according to some newspapers around the country a lack of field workers is causing some farmers to not plant more crops. These homeless people could fill that void and also have a workers quarters to stay with showers and food on the table. and money in there pockets. Happy Jack Sarasota .
Richard M. Swier August 25, 2012 at 10:29 AM
Jack, There is always work out there. The issue is some will not take advantage of it. So long as we subsidize them to the point that working is less attractive than not working we will have bums. We have a growing number of people in America who vote for a living rather than work for a living. That is the problem. Government dependency is becoming the drug of choice and us working people are paying for their addiction.
Happy Jack August 25, 2012 at 09:31 PM
Richard, You are right, i was just doing a little venting, I have been working since I am 13 years old,I am now 73 and still working I do not have to work but I enjoy it and the money isnt bad either I have my own service business, I am a cancer survivor and Open heart survivor and retirement is a dirty word in my vocabulary.Work never hurt anybody. Happy Jack.
Dan Quarteran August 26, 2012 at 12:16 AM
I am personally able to negotiate or deflect the contempt better than most, so I don't experience the rudeness I know occurs (and have often witnessed.) I show a universal level of respect and passively insist on the same as I might entertain whatever unsolicited advances they opportunistically proffer, but there is often a predictable resentment under the surface with most as they can't escape their vulnerability as outsiders and I am always aware that at some point in the reality of the situation, I am going to be unavailable to them beyond my ability to share a bit of philosophical kismet or solidarity of politics. No matter how far you think you are going to go with any exchange, it always comes down the fact that you are going to head back to your comfortable home that night and they are either going to make curfew at the shelter or sleep under a tree. Bottom line - I sympathize with those who don't want to be engaged or interrupted just because they are walking down the street and I know some encounters are way over the line of acceptable social norms .
Charles Schelle (Editor) September 05, 2012 at 12:57 PM
We have an updated story on this: Sarasota Homeless, Vagrant Crackdown Leads to 55 Arrests http://patch.com/A-x4qW
Dan Christian, manager September 06, 2012 at 12:41 AM
Dear Mayor Atwell, Who's fault is that?
cherylwithac September 06, 2012 at 01:53 AM
Dear Dan: It's not "who's fault is that?" it's "whose fault is that?" If you expect to be taken seriously, please use correct grammar and usage. (who's - who is = who is fault is that)--clearly incorrect grammar and usage.

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