Sarasota police give homeless 5 days to pull up camp from sidewalk

6:40 PM, May 2, 2013   |    comments
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Sarasota, Florida- Sarasota Police and the homeless go head to head once again... this time, for camping illegally on the public right of way. 

Police are using this opportunity not just to enforce the law, but to help mend the broken relationship between the two

Robert Lee has called the quiet city block along Florida Avenue home for six months. It's one block from the Salvation Army in the city's Rosemary District.

"I feel comfortable here," he says.

On Tuesday night Sarasota Police brought the homeless food, but also brought the tough truth: by law, they can't live there. 

Robert says a day later, officers bagged their belongings and tagged the bags with an eviction notice giving the homeless five days to leave.

Robert's reaction? He says he feels disgusted and hurt, and can't see how they can do this to people. 

"Where do you go when you are being chased away?" he asks.

The homeless and Sarasota police have had a turbulent relationship. From rough encounters with police, to the panhandling law that was revoked, rewritten and reinstated this week, to now this.

See also: Video shows Sarasota Police Officer slamming homeless man's face into wall

"There were complaints people urinating in public violating the law," explains Sarasota Police Chief Bernadette DiPino. 

The new police chief says her department is working with the homeless, helping them find a place to store their belongings and to live temporarily.

"What we are doing is going in a humanitarian, but also in a law enforcement capacity. We still have to enforce the law," says DiPino. "It's our job, but maybe we can- in some positive way- interact with the individuals. That's what we are doing."

See Also: Sarasota Police chief" Hands off the homeless!

"People can use abandoned buildings as homeless shelters. I don't know why they don't," says Chris McKenney, who is also homeless. "I think they try their best, but they still have to enforce the law...but then again, we have to break it to survive to live."

Robert doesn't know where he will go next but he's certain of one thing. 

"I'll make it."

Chief DiPino says she wants her department to be part of the solution. She is working on transitional housing for the homeless, along with bringing in an advocate for the homeless who can advise police officers of resources when trying to get someone help.

See also: ACLU says Sarasota Police target homeless, call themselves "Bum Hunters" 

Follow 10 News Reporter Isabel Mascarenas on twitter @IzzyMascarenas

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