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Land offered to Sarasota for Homeless Camp

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SARASOTA COUNTY, FL (WFLA) -

Sarasota officials say the concentration of homeless people in their city far surpasses the national average.

Now one charity group is offering a solution.  It's proposing a homeless camp on a plot of land just off Washington boulevard.  But city officials say it's a suggestion that's easier said than done.

Just off Washington Boulevard lies a plot of land near a cemetery.  It was donated to the charity group, ‘Trinity without Borders' for use as a homeless camp.

Donors are giving nearly $2 million towards the project.  But the Sarasota city manager says there's one big obstacle to this idea- this land here is zoned for commercial use, meaning a tent city is not allowed. And the process to change that code could take some time

"Those procedures take almost a year to complete," said city manager Tom Barwin.  Trinity without Borders has a team of lawyers who are working to change the zoning for that plot of land.

Barwin says a lot of work would have to be done before setting up a camp- like setting up water and sanitation. He says the city is exploring solutions to help the homeless, but it's a two-way street.

Barwin said, "People have got to bring themselves to a point where they are going to make a personal transition from a street lifestyle that involves alcohol and substance abuse to one that requires an individual returning to personal health."

City commissioner Willie Shaw says the city is looking at other communities for ideas- like Pinellas Hope, a successful homeless camp run by Catholic Charities.

"None of those cities got to where they are overnight. There was an issue, there was a problem and they took time and effort to address it," said Shaw.

Sarasota officials won't say if a homeless camp is a good solution, but they're taking their time to find the right answer.

"We cant just wave a magic wand and it disappears. There has to be some thought put into it," said Shaw.

Barwin says in the meantime, the Salvation Army can accommodate 250 people. It's free for up to 10 days, and then its $10 per day. But Barwin says that fee can be waived if the tenants are involved in substance abuse programs.

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