Some Manatee County commissioners are ready to make a disastrous decision that will potentially bring San Francisco’s homeless problem to Manatee. For decades, social workers have believed that the homeless community could be normalized if they were provided with free housing. Major cities like New York City, Chicago, San Francisco and Los Angeles have provided housing for the homeless. 

Visit these cities and you will be warned  to never leave anything valuable in your car. Businesses are closing because citizens do not wish to go into the cities and be accosted by the homeless. Over and over, sympathetic people have tried to normalize homeless people by giving them free housing. 

Several years ago, Manatee County began investigating providing housing for homeless veterans. Initial research went into rehabbing the downtown jail facility for homeless housing. The initial cost estimates for this project caused the project to be abandoned. As part of the research for this project, one county administration department head interviewed 60 homeless veterans and found that only 25 were interested in moving into free housing. 

Recently, some commissioners have discussed turning the current Utilities Department headquarters  at Cortez Road and 66th Street into a huge homeless village for veterans. The Utilities Department site is worth somewhere near 10 million dollars. Some commissioners are in a hurry to  give this property away to a group that will build 126 to 568 homes for homeless veterans. 

It does not take a genius to realize that this facility would become a magnet for homeless veterans across the country. Kind-hearted politicians have tried this experiment before in other cities and the result is the taxpayers end up footing the bill for more government waste. Cynical politicians are often happy to hide behind support for veterans while wasting government resources. 

An intelligent approach to this project would be to do a test project on a very small scale and observe the results. Manatee County could provide a small amount of vouchers for legitimate homeless veterans and see if the vouchers help the homeless veterans become productive members of society.

We are fortunate to have many veterans who live in our county and help make our community a better place to live. Supporting veterans does not  require one to support a project that will probably end up in an accounting mess for our county and a safety issue for our citizens. Countless cities have attempted to help homeless people and ended up attracting more homeless people and creating a nightmare for their hard working citizens. All of the politicians who started these initiatives believed they were helping the homeless improve their lives and had no idea their decision would have the disastrous consequences that resulted. 

Are we being taxed so much in our county that we can give away tens of millions of dollars to fix a small problem. More importantly, do our commissioners have any experience dealing with this problem on this large of a scale. If we truly believe in helping veterans, we should start a small test project and study the results.

Don’t take advantage of the taxpayers of Manatee County by investing in an uncertain project that will likely result in more homeless people moving to our community.  Take a hard look at San Francisco and Los Angeles. This could happen here soon if our county commission rushes into an untested experiment. 

Bob Spencer
Manatee Herald

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