Sarasota's ACLU chapter: Homeless are treated like "second-class citizens"

SARASOTA - It's a fight for constitutional rights.

The Sarasota/Manatee/DeSoto chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida held a press conference Tuesday morning to in their words, "release the latest disturbing findings on police treatment of the homeless in Sarasota."

At the press conference, the ACLU addressed not only what they are calling the unfair treatment of the homeless in the area, but also ways they say the community can step up and help stop the problem.

Sarasota/Manatee/DeSoto chapter President, Pete Tannen says this battle between the homeless and the city police has been going on for the past seven or eight years and its his job to see that the issue is resolved.  He said the November 11 arrest of Darren Kersey is a great example.  Kersey is a homeless man who was arrested and charged for stealing, not merchandise, but instead, electricity from a public shelter in Gillespie Park.  

An arrest that Andrea Mogensen, attorney with the ACLU, says is unacceptable.

 "They're basically trying to communicate to homeless people in our community that they are not allowed to avail themselves to services in this community," said Mogensen

"That's something we object to at the ACLU."

But the city seems to have a different view on the problem.  City Manager Thomas Barwin said according to new figures, just out Tuesday, since 2004, there have been 25,600 instances of documented police contact with the homeless in the area, of those, only fourteen resulted in arrest.  He says as a matter of fact, those same numbers show 1,416 homeless people were referred to various services in the area by Sarasota Police.

He says this talk of the unfair treatment of the homeless in Sarasota is just not accurate.

"This community has served 30,000 meals last year to the homeless," said City Manager Barwin.

"The salvation army rarely refuses anyone shelter, its a $8 million operation. 

"I think its false and inaccurate and a misrepresentation of reality."

The ACLU made it clear at Tuesday's press conference that they just want equal treatment for everyone in the area. 

Whether they be homeless or not and they intend to continue to fight for constitutional rights for those they feel are being mistreated.

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