Category Archives: Media

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Gil Smart: As homeless scatter, eulogizing a ‘nobody’ March 1, 2017

Category : Media

Gil Smart: As homeless scatter, eulogizing a ‘nobody’

I interviewed Cottle in late January, as Martin County Sheriff’s deputies were preparing to clear the homeless from the woods along Commerce Avenue and behind the Stuart Walmart. He was emaciated and filthy yet retained an obvious flicker of pride. He’d been in those woods for nearly two decades, he said. Now, like many of the longtime “residents,” he had nowhere to go and no way to get there.

But he had benefactors: Karen Hopping, of the group Tent City Helpers, and her husband, John, brought him food and ultimately helped him move. When he died, she grieved.

“My life was enriched more than I can say by knowing him,” Hopping wrote on her Facebook page.

Karen and her husband have taken in Cottle’s son.

For the rest of the people who were chased out of the woods, life grinds on.

As they seek new places to camp, many are getting cited for trespassing. Some have moved multiple times.

“They are running out of places,” said Hopping, who helped several others move. “And mentally, they are unraveling.”

Christine Weiss, spokesperson for the Martin County Sheriff’s Office, said deputies haven’t noticed a big uptick in trespassing complaints. But problems have cropped up, notably at the old Cowboy’s Restaurant off U.S. 1 on the south side of Stuart, where several homeless people have set up camp.

“The facility is being vandalized and the litter and surrounding area is terrible,” Weiss wrote in an email.

Meanwhile, Tent City Helpers, one of several local groups that ministers to the homeless, started a petition on the website change.org, asking Martin County and Stuart city officials to create “emergency and transitional housing for families, men, and women within walking distance of public transportation.” The petition also wants officials “to establish more affordable housing options in order to decrease the number of homeless within our community.”

As of this writing, the petition has only 76 signatures.

The needle doesn’t appear to be moving.

When I wrote about meeting Daddy, I got some interesting feedback. People said I was being too credulous; I didn’t dig around to determine whether Cottle was telling the truth.

He told me, and I wrote, that he and his wife had started two businesses that did well (I used the term “thriving”), until they — and he — got derailed by his wife’s enormously expensive breast cancer diagnosis.

Bill Merce, of Stuart, wrote to say he couldn’t figure out how Cottle “could have built two ‘thriving’ businesses but failed to have business savvy sufficient to save them” when his wife died.

J.K. Joyce, of Stuart, also took issue. Cottle, he wrote, “started ‘two thriving businesses.’ What exactly would those businesses be?”

And the answer is, I don’t know. So I looked.

A Lexis-Nexis search turned up a record of one business called “The Herb Shop,” where Cottle was listed as the owner. There’s no indication where or when that was, and how well it did is impossible to say.

He did declare bankruptcy in 1993, according to info turned up by the search. This is in keeping with what Cottle told me about his wife’s diagnosis with and her ultimate death from breast cancer, which he said buried him beneath medical bills.

Indeed, the records turned up evidence he was married, to a Louise Megahey Cottle, now deceased.

He lived in Alabama, as he’d said, then apparently moved to North Carolina before landing in Florida. And here’s something curious: Cottle has a criminal record in both North Carolina and Florida. According to the search, he had been arrested at least 12 times in Martin County; charges ran the gamut from trespassing and disorderly conduct to assault and aggravated battery. Several charges were dropped, but he was found guilty on others and did spend some time in jail.

Cottle was arrested five times in North Carolina, though the records didn’t indicate what for. But there were no records of arrests in Alabama — indicating, perhaps, that the turning point in his life occurred in Alabama. As he had described.

In our own archives, I found Cottle had been a witness in the “Salerno Strangler” trial in 2006. He’d been a friend of Jacqueline Clark Bradley, one of three women killed by Eugene McWatters. Bradley, like Cottle, was homeless.

Cottle was no saint. But I’m going to go out on a limb and say most of what he told me of his life was true.

To Hopping, it didn’t matter.

“All I know is that he was a kind man who I grew to love and care for very much,” she said.

But the veracity of his backstory did seem to matter to some who knew of him only through what I wrote. As if they needed it to be untrue — there but for the grace of God, maybe. The insinuation was that of course Cottle lied, because he was homeless. A screw-up. A nobody.

Well, people screw up. The question is whether that diminishes their worth as human beings.

Some must feel that way. But when Daddy died, others grieved a nobody.

Because they felt, whatever was in his past, he was somebody.

Gil Smart is a columnist for Treasure Coast Newspapers and a member of the Editorial Board. His columns reflect his opinion. Readers may reach him at gil.smart@tcpalm.com, by phone at 772-223-4741 or via Twitter at @TCPalmGilSmart.

 

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Gil Smart: Service memorializes homelss ‘Daddy’ March 31, 2017

Category : Media

Gil Smart: Service memorializes homeless ‘Daddy’


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Guest column: Call to action for community’s homeless

Category : Media

Over the past several weeks, about 40 homeless men, women and children were removed from their homes in the wooded areas around Walmart in Stuart.

Their plight has sparked a flurry of newspaper articles and social media comment — rightfully and thankfully so!

Our homeless neighbors have been invisible and without a voice for many years, but with this attention now focused upon their plight, people are beginning to ask questions such as:

“Where will they go?”

“How many homeless people are there?”

“Are there children in the woods?”

These are perfectly legitimate questions, ones that we in Martin County should have been asking ourselves for a decade or more. But, carpe diem; better late than never.

So let’s stop complaining about a past of inaction and seize the opportunity to begin addressing the real issues of homelessness in Martin County.

First, who are the homeless?

The homeless are not limited to those few panhandlers seen on some of our street corners. The population is significant and diverse. There are men, women, children and families. They are not all addicts or alcoholics; some are, and they pose their own set of problems. Many work, and some work daily. They attend our churches. Their children attend our schools. Their camps are not simply small tents; some are very creative and substantial structures.

The homeless are by no means limited in appearance to the stereotypical shaggy, dirty person the term generally calls to mind.

Second, how many are there?

Knowing how many homeless people we have in Martin County is crucial to defining needs and crafting solutions.

But, for some, it seems the solution is to minimize the numbers to show that there really is not a problem — or that existing programs are adequately addressing the problems.

Just last week, the annual Point in Time census was taken to determine the actual number of homeless men, women and children living in the wooded areas of our county. The now publicly reported results are that there are 48 homeless people in all of the wooded areas throughout Martin County: 48!

Is that a valid number?

Let’s test it against actual facts: More than 40 people were displaced from their homes in that one small areas around Walmart. Does that mean there are only eight other homeless in the rest of Martin County? Tent City Helpers, who feed, clothe and provide for those in the woods estimated they have identified about 150 homeless people. Can their estimate be off threefold?

House of Hope, which provides daily food to the homeless, has more than 250 registered homeless. Can their numbers be off fivefold? We at Can We Help serve on average 45 people per week. Does that mean there are only three homeless people in the entire county who do not come to our meals?

The Martin County School District has identified and is servicing almost 300 homeless students. How is that possible if there is a total of 48 homeless in the county?

Until we get an accurate count of the homeless population and determine their demographic mix, it is impossible to understand the extent of the problem or craft solutions.

In the interim, how do we measure up in our care and concern for the homeless?

Consider the following:

  • There is no emergency shelter for men or women in Martin County. Therefore, a homeless person who suffers an accident, is recovering from surgery, is ill or is experiencing any type of a crisis has nowhere to go other than back into the woods.
  • There is only one nonrestricted temporary or transitional housing for women and children in Martin County. It can accommodate about 12 women and young children, but cannot accommodate men or older children, and the demand far exceeds its capacity.
  • There is no temporary or transitional housing for men in Martin County. A homeless man in Martin County has nowhere to go other than the woods.

The county owns thousands of acres of property. But, to the best of my knowledge, there has never been any discussion about outfitting a single acre of that land with portable water, showers or sanitary facilities to allow those who choose to continue to live outside to set up platform tents, small houses or other appropriate and safe shelter.

There is no nonprofit drug or alcohol rehab facility in Martin County.

To not understand the demographics of our homeless neighbors, to not be able to even accurately count their numbers and to offer virtually no form of shelter, housing or assistance is, in the words of a colleague, unethical.

All of this in a county that has a warm and generous heart, that reaches out to everything from nesting turtles and abandoned animals to our environment and our wildlife, is beyond unethical. It is simply unacceptable.

So the call to action for nonprofits, citizens, governmental officials and the rest of us: Let’s step up as the wonderful county we really are by caring for the least of these, our brothers and sisters.

Bob Durst is co-founder of Can We Help Inc., a Stuart-based charity that ministers to the homeless.


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AFTER HOMELESS ARE EVICTED, THEN WHAT?

Category : Media

Austin “Daddy” Cottle, 62, sprawled on a stained white couch — no cushions — in the woods near the Stuart Wal-Mart last week.

These were his new digs. He had moved from a previous camp the week before, and by the time you read this, he probably will be gone from this new spot, too. It’s too close to the road, and Daddy, like all homeless people, is vulnerable.

Daddy said he left the coal fields of West Virginia for Alabama, where he met his second wife. They started two thriving businesses. Then his wife was diagnosed with breast cancer and died in 1991. The medical bills, he said, amounted to more than $1 million. He lost the businesses, his house, his vehicles and he came to Florida. He has been living in the woods around the Wal-Mart, he estimated, for about 23 years.

But maybe not for much longer.

Daddy and his adult son are among the homeless being displaced because the owner of several wooded parcels along the Commerce Avenue corridor reportedly wants to sell, as I reported last week. These woods served as Martin County’s de facto homeless shelter; there are few other options for the people who camped out here.

Nonetheless, some have moved on.

Karen Hopping of the group Tent City Helpers, which aids the homeless, helped 21 people the week before the Martin County Sheriff’s Office put up signs telling the homeless to leave. Last week, she helped 11.

“I know of two that packed up and moved on,” she said. But of the others, “have they moved, are they scared? I don’t know for sure.”

Last week’s column on the pending evictions generated a lot of response, particularly on social media. Happily, the comments weren’t as vitriolic as I feared. Most seemed to get that homelessness is an extraordinarily complex problem and there’s no magic bullet.

But I spent the past week asking people who work with the homeless what could be done to at least begin to address Martin County’s growing problem.

Bob Durst of Can We Help Stuart, which aids the homeless, told me the most pressing need, by far, is for an emergency shelter.

Homeless people couldn’t stay there indefinitely. But it would be a huge help for those who are evicted from long-time campsites, or those who are sick.

Durst told me — and this is insane — Can We Help has worked with homeless people who have had surgery, then had no other option than to go back into the woods.

Let’s come to a full stop for a moment and think about this.

You have a surgical procedure done, then you go home to the comfort of your house.

Other people stumble back into the woods to recuperate in their tents amidst the elements.

Martin County is an extremely wealthy community. But this is like something out of the Third World.

Durst said given the varied reasons for homelessness, it’s impossible to craft a “one-size-fits-all” solution. Some people are always going to choose “the woods” as their lifestyle.

But “we have more than enough land owned by the county that could be made available for safe camp sites, sanitary facilities, small houses or any other mix and match sets of alternatives,” said Durst, who also sits on the county’s Affordable Housing Committee.

On Facebook last week, several online commenters mentioned the nascent “tiny houses” movement. In places like Seattle, Portland and Austin, Texas, among other cities, government and private donors provide the homeless with minuscule houses — think 250 square feet — that are insulated, heated and structurally sound.

Innovative ideas like this are needed here, Durst said.

“The old approaches aren’t working,” Durst said. “So it’s probably about time for us to think about and to create other solutions.”

But Anita Cocoves, Martin County’s Health and Human Services manager, pointed out there’s considerable help available to the homeless right now. But there are few takers.

“Some folks, we’re able to find housing for them, and they’re willing,” she said. “But frankly, some really don’t have any interest. You can offer (help) to them, but you can’t make them take it.”

Cocoves said some transitional housing is available. Her office gets federal grant money that can be used to pay the first month’s rent, security deposit and sometimes a portion of ongoing rent.

“We’ve got about 58 people scattered all over Martin County” who get county help to pay rent, she said.

But more apartments are needed, and the county rental market is so tight “even if you can find (an apartment), rent is really high,” Cocoves said.

I asked Daddy: If there was a place you could go, would you go there? He gave an enthusiastic yes.

He struck me as proud, despite it all. And it’s that human dignity people like Hopping see, and want everyone else to see, too.

What do the homeless in Martin County need? For the community at large to “admit these people are there,” Hopping said. “They’re mothers, they’re fathers, brothers or sisters. They’re just like you and me.

“We are all one tragedy away from being in these woods.”

Gil Smart is a columnist for Treasure Coast Newspapers and a member of the Editorial Board. His columns reflect his opinion. Readers may reach him at gil.smart@tcpalm.com, by phone at 772-223-4741 or via Twitter at @TCPalmGilSmart.


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SEA COAST BANK/BILL BROOKS FOOD DRIVE

Category : Blessing Posts , Media

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Nov. 1 -26th Food Drive

The Seacoast Bank is partner in the Bill Brooks, TV5 FOOD DRIVE and the Seacoast Branch at the Southwest Corner of Indian Street and US1 has designated CAN WE HELP as the recipient of all food collected!

Please drop in in lobby!

Canned fruits

Canned veggies

Cereals

Pasta

Mac and Cheeses

Canned meats

 

 

 


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TREASURE COAST COMMUNITY ACTION AGENCY ADVISORY BOARD

Category : Media

Can We Help Director Appointed To The Treasure Coast Community Action Agency Advisory Board!

On March 29, 2016, the Martin county Commissioners appointed Robert Durst, Executive Director of Can We Help, as one of three representatives of Martin County  to be on the Treasure Coast Community Action Agency Advisory Board.

The Agency’s stated mission is to “collaborate with human services organizations, the private sector and residents to offer programs and services that build self-reliant individuals and families”.

In accepting the appointment, Mr. Durst observed that the mission of the Agency is strikingly similar to Can We Help’s mission of helping the homeless and the profoundly impoverished to achieve “self-sufficiency”.

“I am not only an advocate for the impoverished, but a very strong believer that helping people to truly achieve self-sufficiency and providing them with access to affordable housing can only be achieved through the partnership of nonprofit organizations and the private sector with the aid and support of governmental agencies”.

“Top down efforts have proved relatively futile in alleviating the problems of homelessness, poverty and hunger for almost three generations, and, while governmental support is essential, the effort must begin on a person to person level with a true commitment to bringing Treasure Coast Community Action Agencypeople to self-sufficiency on the part of both nonprofit and private sector”.


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