SARASOTA - Helping the homeless on the Suncoast is more complicated than you may think. Experts say you might be doing more harm than good. While it’s encouraged to help people, giving directly to the homeless actually doesn’t help. The Coordinator of Homelessness Response for the City of Sarasota, Kevin Stiff, calls it toxic giving.

"If I provide a homeless person a meal every day, I’m not ending their homelessness, I’m sustaining them on the street and encourage them not to leave to find other paths," Kevin Stiff said.

Stiff encourages people not to give because it only helps one person.

"We’re trying not to build a system that houses a person," Stiff said. "A system that works, that ends homelessness houses many individuals.”

The Area Commander for the Salvation Army in Sarasota County, Major Charles Whiten, says you can never be sure that it's really doing what you think it’s doing. There are many types of homeless people out there.

"You have those people who just aren’t sure what to do or feel overwhelmed by maybe a situation where they could be helped," Major Charles Whiten said. "But if there are these things that keep them from engaging, they really don’t move forward in their life."

The once homeless person, Carl May, received the help he needed through the Salvation Army.

"It saved my life, yea. I was in a downward spiral," Carl May said. "Because when you’re homeless, anything and everything happens. It’s a very dangerous area of life to be in, when you’ve lost everything and don’t care that much about it."

May says you shouldn’t help the person on the street with money.

"Don’t ever give someone homeless money, ever," May said. "That’s one of the worst things you can do. The next step for that person is to go buy drugs or alcohol.”

There are still ways to help. Organizations provide special services for the different types of individuals in need of it. Some of them include the Salvation Army, Resurrection House, the Suncoast Partnership to End Homelessness, and more. They offer shelter, food, clothing, and other services to ensure success for the people. 

"There’s always great need, but there’s also great hope," Whiten said. "It’s a wonderful blessing to be in a community that cares so much and gives so great.”

If you want to help the homeless, you can call 2-1-1 or you can go Suncoast Partnership to End Homelessness to contact someone. You can also donate different gifts to the Salvation Army and their thrift stores.