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Stand down draws hundreds to Palmetto fairgrounds


PALMETTO - Paul Trznadel says a construction job would be a good first step to getting him off the streets.

Homeless Stand Down
People lined up outside, waiting for the doors to open.

The handsome, young-looking man in his mid-50s sat on a chair at the Veterans Homeless Stand Down on Saturday and said that he's living at the Salvation Army shelter in Bradenton. He used to work day labor, he said, but that has dried up.

He said he doesn't think the economy will turn around anytime soon. "Not for the majority of the people here, the homeless people," he said. "They do a lot of the construction work and that's almost a complete stoppage."

He said he's thinking of leaving Florida and looking for work elsewhere, though he isn't sure where but it would be a major metropolitan area.

Sitting next to him, Michael Lee, 42, said he arrived in the area recently but he's ready to leave Florida and move to Austin, Texas, because the police are always giving him a hard time. A man with a backpack, Lee said, is a target, and he also broke his leg and walks with a cane. He lives on the beach, but not in the "island" lifestyle.

He's worked selling and grooming horses for race tracks, and construction-type work.

"The federal government wants to help us out, and I think the federal government needs to step in with the state more," he said, but local politics in the cities gets in the way.

Government statistics on how the "stimulus" has created many jobs have little meaning for Trznadel, Lee and the hundreds who came from Sarasota and Manatee counties looking for food, clothing, medical care, an understanding ear to listen, some compassion and a job.

Trznadel said his faith has helped him through this time. "It'll work out," he said. "I have faith in God. Jesus never had a roof over his head, and he won't let me down."

Variety of services

Volunteers checked in on the right as the doors opened, but many of the homeless who came didn't know that they had to form a huge line on the left in a very small office. Sitting at tables there were people who listened, filled out forms, gave out wristbands, and then sent people for services.

As they left the room, each person received a large plastic bag to be filled with toiletries, clothing and more.

Initially, when the doors opened at the fairgrounds, people rushed in and tried to get services, only to be told they had to go back and check in.

Among those checking in people was County Commissioner Carol Whitmore, whose husband, a doctor, was working at the stand down, too, and seeing patients. County Commissioner Larry Bustle, a retired Air Force colonel, was also there.

In a hall filled to bursting, MTI students gave haircuts and other assistance, people gave out children's books and more services were available. In one giant barn, staffers from the Department of Veterans Affairs oversaw the distribution of clothing, first to veterans, then to everyone else.

At a trailer near the clothing site, Jesse Bradford, a young VA dentist from the Bay Pines hospital in St. Petersburg, another dentist and assistants tended to the dental needs of veterans. In the Jobs Etc. van, people lined up to use the computers to look for work.

Homeless Stand Down
After entering, they had to pass through a small office, where volunteers talked with them.

"We're serving the homeless veterans," he said. "There's a huge need. We have an aging population and a lot of them are at risk for health complications, and that contributes to their dental health."

A big attraction was the food and water distribution, and a number of people stopped at the Salvation Army vehicle first to pick up some food and then eat before braving the lines for services.

Struggling to live and keep pride

Trznadel consented to having his picture taken, while Lee asked that his not be taken. But then Trznadel thought better of it and asked a reporter to erase the photo. He didn't want his picture in the media, even online.

"As part of a group, that would be fine," he said.

Men seemed willing to talk about their situation, but with them women would walk away when a reporter approached. Kimberly Lee, homeless from Sarasota, initially agreed to talk, then suddenly said, "I'm done."

Antonio Martinez, 64, sat on a bench in the shade and took it all in. He had worked as a cook for the Fort Lauderdale Yacht Club, he said, and moved to the area hoping to find something where he could use his skills.

He lives with other homeless people on the street. His plastic bag held lots of clothing, including pants, shoes, shirts and some underwear, and he needed medical treatment for a pinched nerve and arthritis.

"I would like a job, maybe, like a janitor," he said. "Something easy for me."

Homeless Stand Down
There was plenty of food, and people sat down at benches for their meals while awaiting their next services.

'Sometimes I offer them prayer'

Barbara Ellen, a worker at the One Stop Center in Bradenton, was one of the people surveying people coming in for services.

"People are very receptive, and they've very kind and appreciative," she said. "Sometimes they talk about their difficulties, sometimes I offer them prayer. They can't fire me because I'm a volunteer, so I pray with some of them."

They need someone to talk to, Ellen said. "I wish I had a solution, but we all can do what we can for the homeless," she said.

'Jobs, jobs, jobs'

Don Castner, 36, was self-employed in stucco and construction work when the economy creaked to a halt.

He lives on the streets in Bradenton, and thought the event was helping him out.

For 20 years, he has lived in the county. "Now, I'm homeless without no job," he said.

He said he hopes things turn around, but he doesn't know about leaving the state. "I've got an uncle who lives in California and he said it ain't no better out there," Castner said.

There are a lot more women who are homeless now, and more families, too, he said.

Adell Erozer of the Community Coalition on Homelessness said Saturday that steady work and pay would go a ways toward getting many people back into a stable living situation and off the streets.

"There's so many people this morning, but we've done a fantastic job of getting everybody pre-registered and it looks to me like everybody is enjoying it," she said.

Her guess was that the event would serve more than 600 people.

Asked what the solution would be for so many people needing help, Erozer said there's one answer.

"Jobs," she said. "Jobs, jobs, jobs. If people had a job, they wouldn't be homeless. They would have money to pay rent and get put into housing. The solution is to get the economy moving again."


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