Come What May

March and April were busy beyond belief for Streets of Paradise (SoP) volunteers.  So much was accomplished in such a short period of time that it seems surreal looking back … and it is only May 7th!  The blurry past two months saw volunteers working persistently, each and every day, to furnish 80 apartments in Arbor Village.  Streets of Paradise had committed, months ago, to move 80+ low-income individuals/families, many of whom had been previously homeless, into this new apartment complex, located at 2901 Fruitville Road, in Sarasota.  Furnishing these units was a prerequisite before residents would be allowed to take possession.  The agreement was that SoP would begin readying apartments by no later than April 1st, but this undertaking actually began on March 1st and has continued daily, until present.  As if this were not enough, our 501(C)(3) simultaneously increased its food distribution on Sarasota’s streets, from one night per week to seven!

On January 21st, the first confirmed case of COVID-19 in the US was announced.  A man who had travelled to Wuhan, China, and contracted the virus there, had returned to his home in Washington state.  Americans watched as the virus spread throughout Washington state and, then, starting in February, caronavirus caught hold in California (Source: abcnews.go.com).  On March 1st, 2020, Governor Ron De-Santis announced that the first two Floridians had tested positive for coronavirus (Source: ClickOrlando.com).  Then, our country watched in horror as the virus ravaged New York City throughout March and April.  All the while, coronavirus was also sweeping through the Sunshine State.  Indeed, by Saturday, May 2nd, the state verified 35,463 cases of COVID-19 throughout Florida.  Of those cases, there were 5,945 hospitalizations and 1,364 confirmed deaths (source:local10.com).  

So WHY did Streets of Paradise decide to begin moving low-income folks into their apartments a full month ahead of the originally scheduled date?  Why wasn’t this endeavor put on hold instead?   The answers to these questions are simpler than one might think.  Streets of Paradise knew that it was only a matter of time before Floridians would be ordered to shelter in place.  SoP President, Greg Cruz, and Director of Operations, Cathy Bryant, both recognized the importance of following this advice long before Florida’s official orders were announced.  For, these volunteers knew that a home offers protection against so many dangers, threats that existed long before this deadly virus came along. COVID-19 added a new risk to the already at-risk, causing the Arbor Village agenda to become more pressing.  The proactive decision was immediately made to move our obligation up a month so that SoP’s extended family could safely shelter in place.

A tremendous amount of work has gone into furnishing 80 apartments.  It wasn’t, by far, the only thing our skeletal crew was attending to, after all.  In addition to the 80 units in Arbor Village, SoP continued with its regularly scheduled move-ins during the weekend.  Because fewer than a handful of volunteers were doing this vital work, the diminished man/womanpower was addressed by showing up and getting to it, nearly every day, from 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.  These days were planned ahead of time by calling donors and scheduling pick-ups in advance.  Then, on move-in/donation days, apartments were furnished between pick-ups.  This was the only feasible way to continuously replenish depleted on-site storage units at Arbor Village and our off-site warehouse, thereby facilitating the ongoing move-in process.  SoP’s trucks have been driven as far north as Sun City and as far south as North Port in order to collect needed furniture and other household items.

Why was a determination made to increase food distribution on the streets of Sarasota?  SoP became aware of mass resource closures that our street family had come to rely upon.  Food pantries associated with churches were closed and agencies that normally supplied daily meals to Sarasota’s homeless community were no longer offering them.  On April 3rd, Governor Ron DeSantis finally issued official “Shelter in Place” orders for Florida.  Of course, one cannot shelter in place without a shelter to go to and one cannot eat with no food available.  Streets of Paradise cares deeply about our fellow humans; we have formed genuine and abiding relationships with our street family.  We simply couldn’t see a legitimate reason for not providing a daily meal.  Yes, our volunteer crew had diminished significantly.  Because of school closures, parents of young children found themselves in the position of caring for their families during times when they might otherwise volunteer.  Other SoP members were deemed “at risk” and, therefore, had significant reasons to minimize their potential exposure to the coronavirus.  Due to a reduced volunteer force and new social distancing requirements, our beloved potluck dinners were modified.  Instead of setting up on the street, approximately 6 to 9 volunteers began at 5:30 p.m., packaging 150 to 250 meals in a controlled environment.  Then, donning protective masks and gloves, anywhere from 4 to 6 SoP volunteers delivered water, along with donated sandwiches and snacks or home-made meals throughout Sarasota, via the back of our newly requisitioned pick-up truck.  Distribution usually ended around 8:30 each evening.

Streets of Paradise currently has enough funding and donations to ensure just three and a half more weeks of nightly food distribution.  In spite of our bountiful and gracious food and water donations, averaging about $1,500 per food share, it costs Streets of Paradise roughly $200 additionally per night.  Clamshell containers, napkins, cutlery, extra snacks and supplemental water, added to fuel expenses (we spend $150 per week to gas up both trucks!), makes it impossible to sustain this stop-gap measure.  Other agencies will surely be re-opening soon.  This will allow SoP to resume normal operations, which were temporarily disrupted by arrival of the coronavirus.

Miraculously, SoP found the time to welcome two new board members on April 28th.  The amazing Coral Pleas and incomparable Mike Thayer have graced us with their wisdom and experience.  We couldn’t be more excited and thankful than we are to have this super duo leading us onward and upward!  Streets of Paradise will be adding another fabulous board member to our family on May 9th.  Stay tuned!

While we are thrilled with the essential work we were able to accomplish during the months of March and April, and ever-so-grateful for every set of hands that took part, our happy and healthy crew is frankly relieved that we have turned the page to May.  Exciting new endeavors are on the horizon and Streets of Paradise is ready to tackle them head-on!  Sunday, May 3rd, we began wrapping up our Arbor Village move-in efforts.  Throughout this week, the people we have steadily served will be encouraged to select “crowning touches” to complete their apartments.  Extra linens, towels, pots and pans, dishes, art work, and decorative items that finish a home will be available for selection before our departure this coming Sunday, May, 10th.  It brings us great joy to have honored our commitment to the 80+ precious human beings who are beginning life anew in safe, furnished apartments!

Streets of Paradise currently has at least 15 move-ins and 40 donation pick-ups scheduled for the remainder of  May.  While these numbers are smaller than April’s, we are still committed to nightly food shares for the next 3 1/2 weeks.   By Monday, May 11th, much of our focus will shift  toward relocating from our original warehouse on Washington Boulevard, to a larger unit, located at 8251 15th Street East, Sarasota 34243 – Unit M.   Our smallest storage unit has already been successfully emptied and shut down.  The new space is almost ready, but still has A/C work to be completed.  A safety handrail must also be installed along the stairs to the loft.  This warehouse will accommodate more than twice the furniture and other household essentials than we can currently fit in our original storage unit!  This highly anticipated move has been on hold, while we rightly shifted attention to feeding our street family seven days per week.  Lending due diligence to providing Arbor Village residents with appropriately furnished units in which to shelter in place has also diverted attention from this crucial move. The time has finally come to take possession of the space that will allow us to serve our ever-growing family in a more efficient manner.  This undertaking is going to require tremendous man/womanpower!  Our usual donation pick-ups, new move-ins, and trips to the dump will still be required as we make our transition.  Streets of Paradise encourages anyone interested in being a part of this momentous occasion to contact us.  We must be completely out of the old warehouse by no later than May 20th. 

Writing projects will begin the week of May 11th through 17th. Two are of paramount importance and will be addressed simultaneously:  Completing our Community Foundation profile, in order to add SoP to their Giving Partner database, will enable philanthropic organizations and individuals to locate us easily.  The Community Foundation can then facilitate appropriate meetings with like-minded donors who are interested in addressing homelessness within our community!  This opportunity will also qualify Streets of Paradise to participate in the Giving Challenge in the coming year.  Unfortunately, we were ineligible this year due to the requirement that we be a registered 501(C)(3) for at least two years.  However, we reached this all-important benchmark on March 18th.  This accomplishment will open up doors that were previously closed to SoP.  The second, but equally important, undertaking will be to finish writing our appeal for the grant generously being offered by the women of Impact100.  This amazing organization has raised enough funds to offer THREE grants of $114,000 each, at the end of this year, to qualifying non-profit organizations that operate within Sarasota and Manatee counties.  We intend to do our level best to ensure that one of these grants is awarded to Streets of Paradise!  It has been decided that the windfall from the grant will be used to purchase a commercial food truck.  Having this mobile equipment will change the face of Food Share, yet again.  But it has been deemed necessary to deliver sustenance in an efficient and sanitary manner, our primary focus being the safety and well-being of our street family. 

In preparation for the arrival of our shower trailer on June 1st, it is urgent that we purchase a pressure washer, plus concentrated cleaners, to keep it clean and sanitary.  A new, silent generator, necessary to operate the trailer, must be ordered and secured prior to getting too far into hurricane season, when shortages may hinder procurement.  Furthermore, both shower trailer and pick-up truck require newly designed wraps.  Additionally, Streets of Paradise will be obtaining a protective covering, hitch lock, and insurance for the trailer, plus paying its shipping costs.  We cannot wait to return to shower days!  These joyful occasions to bring our community together are simply incomparable.  Each member of our street family gets the opportunity to eat, take a gloriously hot shower, and even receive a fresh haircut! 

Through steadfast determination, Streets of Paradise will continue to ensure that every effort is made to address homelessness in our community.  We are keenly aware that improving communication is necessary if we are to maximize efficiency and results.  We intend to do just that.  Going forward, regular Facebook posts and/or website blogs will be written and presented to answer questions about what we are doing and where our future leads.  Thanks so much, as always, to our volunteers and donors for your continued support. Your contributions matter more than mere words can convey. 

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