Sarasota offers homeless ticket to ride

Program will provide free bus tickets out of town

The City of Sarasota has adopted a new program that will provide homeless residents free bus tickets out of town, but critics say it doesn't solve the problem long term.

City council approved spending $1,000 for the bus tickets, while two private donors chipped in another couple thousand. It's not enough to give every homeless person in Sarasota a free ride, but it could help some get reunited with family in other cities or states.

"We don't just want to send people away," said Calvin Collins, a member of HOT, which stands for Homeless Outreach Team. HOT is part of Sarasota's effort to deal with the substantial homeless issue in the city. "We want to prepare people to go to their community and thrive and become a good citizen."

For the upscale boutique Jackie Z in downtown Sarasota, the effort comes too late. The business is moving to a mall after repeated complaints from customers.

"They have been a nuisance at night," said store manager Brian Kins. "Sleeping on the sidewalk in front of our door. Really panhandling a lot to customers."

But critics of the idea said it's not going to ultimately fix homelessness in the city.

"I know how many would actually leave. They'd probably come back," said Sarasota resident Margine McCollough. "They love it here just like all of us do."

Catherine Miller of Bradenton said moving homeless people from one city to another fails to address the problem of finding them homes.

"It does not solve the issue. It just displaces them and makes you feel more comfortable," Miller said.

City officials contend that the plan is just a part of a multi-faceted effort to deal with the homeless problem.  

Collins said out of about 250 homeless regulars in the city, outreach programs have helped 35 veterans get access to federal benefits, while 11 have been placed in homes.

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