Sarasota Magazine: Fighting the Good Fight

Sarasota Magazine: Fighting the Good Fight

The following article was written by Gulf Coast Community Foundation and appeared on Sarasota Magazine’s website on May 23, 2024

man smiling at a camera with his arms crossed
Meet Matt, a participant in the CASL Transitions Program who is working two full-time jobs to pay off his fines and save up for permanent housing. He hopes to be debt-free when he finishes the program.

Two critical topics affecting our region right now – safe, permanent, supportive housing, and mental healthcare – are making progress thanks to a strong nonprofit organization that is changing lives through stable housing, support services, and mental healthcare.

Meet our partner, Community Assisted & Supported Living (CASL), Sarasota County’s provider of permanent, supportive housing for people with disabilities, helping residents to be self-sufficient in their own lives and communities. At Gulf Coast Community Foundation (Gulf Coast), we support thriving communities with opportunities for all and we are a steadfast supporter of CASL’s innovative work to help individuals who need it most.

Transformation In Motion

Gulf Coast has worked with CASL on multiple initiatives from providing housing for individuals exiting jail in partnership with the Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office Re-Entry Navigator team and to becoming a trauma-informed organization. “Through Project HEAL: Helping Everyone Align With Love, CASL is becoming a trauma-informed organization and offering trauma treatment in partnership with Operation Warrior Resolution. With Gulf Coast’s support, CASL brought the ‘Transition Inmates to Supported Housing Project’ to life and built a relationship with the Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office so when people are exiting jail, facing homelessness, and have a mental health condition, they have a safe place to call home,” said Gulf Coast’s Director of Community Leadership Jennifer Johnston.

We sat down with CASL’s Chief Executive Officer Scott Eller and Chief Operations Officer PJ Brooks to learn more. We asked Eller how Gulf Coast Community Foundation has helped CASL to better serve our community? “Gulf Coast took a risk on us, blazed the trail, and saw that this was a major problem in our society. They are the incubator and took a leap of faith on us with funding that gave us the ability to innovate and try things that wouldn’t have happened.”

group of people outside smiling at the camera with a dog
The CASL team gathers for a Project HEAL Strategic Thinking Retreat as they become a trauma-informed organization through support from Gulf Coast Community Foundation.

Brooks shared, “Through Gulf Coast’s Project HEAL, CASL has the ability to bring like agencies together to try and target initiatives that create the ability to have infrastructure.” Eller expressed that Gulf Coast invested in CASL through trauma-informed care and that CASL was an early adopter of best practices thanks to the Foundation.

In terms of housing being an essential part of mental health, Brooks shared, “Housing is healthcare and hope, and we try to provide many with their forever homes. Every individual deserves the right to safe, quality housing. How do you maintain stable housing without having your mental health and other things addressed? We are helping individuals transition into the real world by giving them their own place to live. On average a chronic homeless individual’s lifespan shortens by about 29 years. You’re looking at a life-altering, life-extending opportunity.”

Sharing an inspirational story of a CASL resident, Eller said, “I think about an individual who went from having 32 arrests and 15 Baker Acts and/or Marchman Acts in one year to zero. There is a better way of life. This individual was one of the first to move into our housing. We heard about him through a friend who owns a restaurant. We helped him get showered, clothed, get his hair cut, and reintroduced him to the restaurant owner who couldn’t recognize him. The individual ended up working successfully in restaurants.”

three police officers smiling at the camera in front of a wall with their logo
The Re-Entry Navigator team refers participants from the Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office. Photo courtesy Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office.

CASL has dramatically reduced recidivism and is giving people purpose and dignity, priceless gifts that all individuals deserve. Eller shared, “We bring in many people who only have the clothes on their back. We remove the obstacles and barriers and give them a chance.” Individuals exiting homelessness can have complex health conditions and CASL does everything they can to get them access to the healthcare they need. When we asked Eller how long people can stay in their housing, he replied, “Forever. There is no timeline on our housing. When you go for the good fight, you have to stay in the good fight, and you can’t get out. It’s a lifelong endeavor.”