Grande said there was a "parade" of homeless from the bus station to the library. Many business owners complained to the city and Grande contends leaders were reluctant to take action because they were "very liberal" and didn't want more downtown development. At one point, a frustrated Grande chartered a bus for the homeless and drove them from downtown to a million-dollar neighborhood where one city official lived — and proceeded to feed the homeless in front of the official's home.
Eventually, the benches were taken out of the parks.
"Once the benches were removed, the parade really diminished," he said.
Grande sold his condo and now lives in a gated community. He said he's donated time, money and food to homeless programs, including an offer of buying a building where the city and groups could distribute food — an offer, he said, that was rejected by officials.
Leslie Loveless, the interim executive director of the Suncoast Partnership to End Homelessness, said part of the problem is that because Sarasota is such an upscale area, inexpensive housing is difficult to find, even if a homeless person were to snag a job.
"We need to look at transitional and permanent housing that's affordable," she said.
The Center for Housing Policy concluded that in late 2011, only 28 percent of the jobs in the area could earn enough to afford a two-bedroom apartment. To qualify as "affordable," rent must be less than 30 percent of monthly income.
Some of the homeless contend that only a few troublemakers cause all problems, while the rest are trying to extricate themselves from the cycle of joblessness and poverty. James Franklin Jr. spends his days on a bench outside City Hall — and says he's never had issues with officers or city officials. Still, Franklin said he's concerned about the overall societal attitudes about the homeless.
"I've been homeless, I've been a vagrant and now I'm a bum that's being hunted by bum hunters. You know, call me what you're going to call me, but quit switching me up," he said. "Call me James Franklin Jr., whether my situation is good or bad. I respect you and I expect you to respect me."
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