Step right up folks and witness ineffectual governance at its worst.
The increasingly visible issue of long-term homelessness is nothing new in Daytona Beach – those of us who have staked our claim to the American Dream in east Volusia have lived with it for years. Let’s face it, the stereotypical street person is as ubiquitous to the Halifax Area as “Going Out of Business” signs in a burned-out beachside strip center.
Over time, we’ve simply come to “accept it”, like high taxes, substandard chain restaurants and political corruption. They’re just part of our landscape here on the Fun Coast.
Hell, our universal experience isn’t beach driving – it’s that slightly uneasy feeling we get whenever driving south on Ridgewood Avenue near North Street. . .
Just north of the J Food Store you instinctively shift uncomfortably in your seat, hit the door lock, issue your best Clark Griswold “Roll ‘em up!” and stare straight ahead knowing if you can just make it to the South Daytona border the human carnage to your right and left will miraculously disappear.
In the past, if you had an out-of-town guest in the car, Beach Street was your only viable option for getting south without hearing an audible gasp, followed by the natural but embarrassing questions (“Are those prostitutes!? “Is that man urinating?” “No! What? Just urban outdoorsmen enjoying our Sun Country weather, Aunt Alice. But isn’t the new Dollar Store a nice addition?” ).
Now, Beach Street is no longer the scenic route. . .
As a continuation of local government’s long-term public policy that institutional humiliation is the best means of “controlling” the homeless population; last week the City of Daytona Beach closed access to restrooms, benches, and the relative concealment of soggy cardboard boxes and dirty blankets tucked into the scrub palmettos and oyster middens of Manatee Island.
The equal and opposite back-fire to the City’s misguided action was a mass migration of homeless from the shadows to their current very visible perch outside the County Administration building at 250 North Beach Street.
And it appears the great unwashed aren’t going anywhere soon.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s an intractable problem for government – I dealt with it to various effect for years. The issues are infinite – available funding is not. When your only tool is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail. I get it. But don’t act like this issue just popped out of the bushes last Tuesday.
By coming into public view, the homeless population have perhaps done more to break the City-County impasse that has hampered progress and plagued taxpayers in Volusia County for decades than they have to help themselves.
Unfortunately, we are seeing the typical response we’ve come to expect whenever any municipality is forced to deal with Volusia County government on a matter of mutual concern.
The discourse begins with a very public proclamation from the County Manager’s office that “the problem” (whatever the issue du jour may be) is the City’s responsibility, followed by open threats from tough guy Josh Wagner to change his allegiance/support on the matter, culminating in strong-arm tactics escalating to open thuggery from the County Attorney. Just wait and see.
Add to this the abject dysfunction that permeates the bureaucratic nightmare that is Daytona Beach City Hall and you have quite a cocktail. Once again our “leadership” have been caught flatfooted, and it shows.
City spokeswoman Susan Cerbone wrote in an email to the Daytona Beach News-Journal on Thursday that City Manager Jim Chisholm would not be making any public comments on the matter until after he had spoken with county officials about their plans. “Other City Commission members did not immediately return messages seeking comment. . .” Indeed.
Then, in his patented “throw money at it” reaction, our own one-trick-pony County Manager Jim Dinneen suggests erecting a fence around the administration building – at a cost of $200,000, naturally. (This is the strategic thinking and creative problem-solving you expect from an administrator commanding over $300,000 in salary and benefits annually, right? RIGHT?)
In the end – once our benevolent dictators decide which political insider will be allowed to get snout-deep in the $4 million set aside for construction of a homeless camp – we may well see movement (however temporary) on the collective City-County public relations nightmare on Beach Street.
I mean, our bread-and-butter “Special Events” period is just over the horizon, eh? Hordes of drunken vagrants fronting Beach Street is poor for the image – whatever our “image” is – and we can’t have that, now, can we? Seize the Daytona, y’all.
Make no mistake, at the end of the day it’s about who gets the money – and that rabble squatting on the steps of the Tag Office is the least of Dinneen, Chisholm or Henry’s concern.