'Homeless piano man' joins ACLU lawsuit against Sarasota

- Donald Gould will never forget the days and nights he spent living on the streets of Sarasota.

"Every night I would have to find a place to crash, but that wouldn't work out," he said.

His piano skills helped get him off the street, but now he is working to help those left behind.

"These people are still my friends out there and I don't want to see them going through the same thing," he continued.

Gould is one of six men filing a lawsuit against the city with the ACLU.  The suit says, since 2014, police issued the homeless 608 citations for sleeping outdoors and 274 citations for trespassing.

The Sarasota Police Department's official numbers are lower.  Since 2014, they only show 225 citations.

"I think we are being unfairly marketed that way," said Chief Bernadette DiPino.

Chief DiPino has made it her mission for the last year and a half to work with the homeless.

"We brought in civilians, counselors; we engage with the community that people are homeless. Every day we make impacts to find out why they are homeless. Find out how we can get them into treatment or help," she said.

The ACLU said it is not a crime to sleep outdoors when there is no place to go.  They said the city lacks affordable housing and places to turn to for help.

The chief said they are working to get those in need help quicker.

"We are not going to get distracted with lawsuits and false accusations. We are going to continue to move forward and continue to try do the rights things," DiPino insisted.

Gould wants those to have a chance like he did.

"This problem doesn't end with me. I'm not the only one. I just happened to get lucky," he added.

Sarasota city commissioners plan to discuss the lawsuit at Monday's meeting.

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