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Homeless Are A Challenge For Sarasota, Fla.

By TAMARA LUSH

SARASOTA, Fla. (AP) â¿¿ On a recent sunny winter day on a downtown Sarasota street corner, a cluster of homeless men lounged on the back steps of a building, grimy backpacks and bags at their feet, while a few folks ambled to the nearby bus station.

Parked at a meter just feet from them was a red Ferrari and around the corner was Sur la Table, an upscale cookware store offering $400 juicers.

Newer, wealthy residents in the Gulf Coast city known for its arts scene and beautiful beaches are buying expensive downtown condos so they can live an urban lifestyle â¿¿ but don't want the problems associated with a city, including the 700 or so homeless people who inhabit the county, the American Civil Liberties Union and others contend.

They also say authorities, including police, are trying to harass the homeless into leaving the town of 53,000 full-time residents.

Recently, the ACLU uncovered a surveillance video showing an officer throwing a homeless man against a metal grate and received public records that show officers sent messages to each other about "bum hunting."

"We thought those messages were beyond just being juvenile, but was sort of indicative of the atmosphere that existed in the city," said Michael Barfield, the legal chair of the ACLU in Sarasota.

To be sure, other warm-weather cities have grappled with problems associated with the homeless. In Florida, Key West has periodically cracked down on "quality of life" offenses such as aggressive panhandling and using residents' outdoor showers. Miami-Dade County counted nearly 4,000 homeless people either sleeping on the street or in shelters within its borders one year ago.

Barfield said that in the past 18 months, the city has targeted the homeless by removing benches and banning smoking in downtown parks and arrested a homeless man for charging his cellphone on a city-owned outlet in a park. The charge was later dropped.

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