"The City of Sarasota removed the benches from Five Points Park so that homeless people who gathered there would have no place to sit! Evidently, condo owners with views overlooking the park felt their safety and property values were under siege. Never mind that nobody was violating any laws. Never mind that many other city residents enjoyed the benches."This didn't sit well with Occupy Sarasota. So, several weeks ago, Occupy Sarasota decided by consensus to back a petition to bring back benches to Five Points Park. One Occupier reached out to Reverend Tom Pfaff, Sarasota Goodwill Chaplain. As a result, Reverend Pfaff and several other homeless advocates came to address the Occupy Sarasota General Assembly last Saturday. Revered Pfaff brought with him Sarasota Police Chief Paul Sutton, who is also on the Board of the Salvation Army, Cathy Hart, who runs the shelter services at the Salvation Army, as well as homeless and previously homeless members of the community. The intense dedication of these advocates shone through, when they spoke. We were treated to their views as to why it was in everybody's best interest to keep park benches out of the Park. To summarize, when there were park benches in Five Points Park, crime was up and donations to the Salvation Army were down. Nobody provided any statistics to back these assertions up, but they certainly brought many years of experience helping this population. Their thrust was that anyone who was homeless and needed help was best served at Resurrection House, the Salvation Army, and area churches rather than hanging out at benches in Five Points Park. And, if Occupy Sarasota wished to be part of the solution, they should come down to volunteer and/or donate canned food to these organizations. Here are some excerpts from the views presented and the ensuing question and answer session.
December 6, 2011
Would Benches in Five Points Park Be Good for Homeless Residents?
In a prior post, I reported that last Spring,Another focus of the speakers was the phenomenal job Sarasota is doing to help homeless members of the community as well as those with substance abuse problems. This runs counter to Sarasota having earned the distinction of "Meanest City in the U.S. For Homeless People" about five years ago. As intractable as the homeless problem seems, there are many successful strategies being employed in Sarasota. I'm sure there will be further discussion as to how Occupy Sarasota will proceed with the benches issue. The speakers swayed some attendees to the idea of keeping benches out of the Park. Others felt that this is not just a homeless issue; the benches are for everybody's use and removing them goes against the common good. Captain Sutton did clarify one important point. Anyone is free to bring chairs down to Five Points Park for their own use. This would apply to the Occupy Sarasota weekly rally. After the General Assembly, various Occupiers trotted out five chairs for use by the knitting circle.