Homeless of Manatee County Find Refuge in Woodland Campsite

THE HomelesS OF MANATEE COUNTY
17th Street East is an industrial backroad lined by towing and auto service companies, where the pavement gives way to a dusty dirt road as you reach its dead end. It is at this dead end where Oneco’s homeless community have constructed their woodland campsite after being displaced by the La Mexicana Flea Market fire reported in the Bradenton Herald in Dec. of 2016.

homeless trailer
An abandoned trailer homes several campsite residents. (Photo: Alexander Michael Buono)
“The police have changed,” said Sonia T, one of the encampment’s newer residents,(who asked not to be identified). Sonia added, “We like the people who bring food, but they haven’t been around here for a while.”
According to last year’s Point-In-Time Survey conducted by the Suncoast Partnership to End Homelessness, the homeless count for the area in Manatee County outside of Bradenton has increased from 23 to 242 persons. Several non-profit agencies along with Suncoast have worked with the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office in offering to provide services to the homeless communities across the county.
“We will visit homeless camps and supply the people that are there that they can get help, whether it be the Salvation Army or there are several organizations here that will help the homeless,” according to Dave Bristow of the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office.

From inside the 17th Street East campsite, the homeless community tent homes are made up of salvaged building materials, such as plumbing fixtures, cement blocks and scrap lumber. Many of the residents have bartering system for tools and other wares that aid in their day to day survival. In the recent months, the winter cold and living within a floodplain has created challenges to the community.

Homeless Camp
Josh’s two-story structure that he himself has constructed. (Photo: Alexander Michael Buono)
“It wasn’t Irma, but actually a storm two weeks before that flooded the whole area, water up to these tracks,” said Josh, a man in his 50’s who has hand built the two-story structure set back from the train tracks (above). “I’ve lived in Buffalo, Sarasota, and this community is the most difficult to live in.”

For more information on how to get involved the non-profit special projects geared to helping Manatee County’s homeless, click here.

The Prospects of Housing Bradenton’s Homeless in 2018

According to the Point in Time census survey conducted this year by the Suncoast Partnership to End Homelessness, the total number of homeless persons has declined from 474 in 2016, to 328 persons this past year. Despite this decrease in the number of homeless people in town, the City of Bradenton’s community redevelopment plan is a top priority for Bradenton officials heading into 2018.

(Avery Burke, senior specialist of homeless outreach for Centerstone Behavioral Hospital in Bradenton, Florida, describes his journey to homeless outreach in Bradenton, Florida on Dec. 12, 2017. Information Source: Alex M Buono)

Avery Burke (see video above) is the senior specialist in Homeless Outreach for Centerstone Behavioral Hospital’s access center located in Bradenton, Florida. For Burke, a lifelong resident of Bradenton, coming into the awareness of the scale and size of Bradenton’s homeless population was a revelation he didn’t have until he started his professional journey.
 
“Once the door was open, it was like a mind-opening experience,” said Burke. “I didn’t notice all of this was there.”
 
According to the recommendations of the City of Bradenton’s Community Development Block Grant Program Consolidated Action Plan for the years 2017 to 2021, a stated goal for transitional housing is a city-subsidized program overseen by a non-profit with experience in transitional housing. The recent increase in population growth of residents in Bradenton and Manatee Counties as reported in the Sarasota Herald-Tribune in 2016, make the efforts for transitional and long-term housing of the homeless all the more urgent.
 
“We researched how we can do more affordable stuff,” Burke said. He continued, “You have the push on tiny homes, tiny home communities, all of the smaller; style one and two-person homes that can be built more affordably.”
 
In recent years, the downtown area of Bradenton has been undergoing an urban renaissance with the expansion of the Village of the Arts (VOTA) and the creation of the Bradenton Riverwalk. In 2013, the Bradenton Downtown Development Authority (DDA) proposed the multi-year urban revitalization project entitled “The Village Tapestry.” In June of 2015, the DDA stated that the goal for the Village of the Arts expansion was to acquire properties for mixed-used redevelopment that are, “targeted to a mix of Millennials, Boomers, and creative professionals who want to live, work, create, and play in an Urban Environment.”
 
Professor James Wright, co-author of Poor and Homeless in the Sunshine State: Down and Out in Theme Park Nation and the Provost’s Distinguished Research Professor in the Department of Sociology at the University of Florida, says this type of housing focus is not new to the state.
 
“The absurdity and the tragedy is that the state has been through four decades of housing and population growth yet almost no attention has been paid to housing the poor. So, while there is lots of housing, there is very little affordable housing,” Burke said.
 
Wright added, “And what little there is, is threatened by gentrification and ‘revitalization’ efforts.”
 
The multiple projects for downtown revitalization have faced some pushback in the recent years, most volubly during a June 2015 city council vote, in which the council consolidated its control over the various community redevelopment agencies because some community members appealed to the council for more community involvement.

(Artist Mark Burrow describes the transformation of the Village of the Arts in Bradenton, Florida on Dec. 12, 2017. Information Source: Alex M Buono)

One newcomer to the Village of the Arts neighborhood, Mark Burrow (see video above), owner of the Art Junkies gallery and a longtime Sarasota resident and artist, cautioned that the City of Bradenton might be losing focus due to the multiple projects. “We’re still not done here. This (VOTA) has been almost twenty years in the making, and we’re still not connected to the Riverwalk.” Burrow added, “So starting new projects, great, but kinda focus on one at a time.”
To Avery Burke, the solution to house the homeless population in Bradenton is reaching out to those landlords and building owners willing to help. “It’s finding that person that has a heart and is willing to help in putting in as many people as they can.”
 
For more information on Centerstone’s mental health services, click here.
 
For more information on the Suncoast Partnership to End Homelessness, click here.