Regardless of how you feel about the Hope Place homeless assistance center at the former Hurst Elementary School, the recent maneuvering of Volusia County government underscores the way things get done in our benevolent dictatorship.
I happen to believe that transitional housing for struggling families and at-risk teens is a true community need, especially considering that the Volusia County School Board has classified over 2,000 students as “homeless.”
I also believe that if anyone other than county government were funding the project, the $3.5 million set aside for renovation of the abandoned school facilities could build one heck of a stand-alone shelter just about anywhere. Regardless, it’s clearly a good thing for our community.
That’s right. I can support Hope Place with all the smug self-righteousness I want.
The fact is, it doesn’t affect me in the least.
I write this while sitting comfortably in my Ormond Beach home, safe in the knowledge that these poor souls won’t be sheltered within 10-miles of my backyard – and trust me – they won’t even share the same universe with homes in Plantation Bay.
It’s one of the great benefits the affluent with a social conscious enjoy – they can make decisions for others without ever once getting their hands dirty – or compromising their own property values.
I first learned of this plan back in December when the Daytona Beach News-Journal did a story on Halifax Urban Ministries, a faith-based non-profit that has been engaged in homeless support services in Daytona Beach for many years, and Forough Hossieni – the wife of ICI CEO and uber-rich power broker Mori Hossieni – having selected the former Hurst campus as the ideal site for Hope Place.
Now, I’m just rambling here – but it took the County of Volusia four long years from the time the St. John’s River Water Management District transferred the environmentally sensitive Gemini Springs Annex just to formally accept the property. The fact is, had the City of DeBary’s attempt to exploit the land for private development not been exposed – I’m not sure the County would have ever gotten around to actually receiving the conservation lands.
It literally just sat there. For four years.
But in just six short months County government identifies the Hurst Elementary site as a suitable location for a homeless assistance center. It purchases the property from the School Board (with the structures valued at $1.3 million alone) for the bargain basement price of $200,000, negotiates a land transfer and operations contract with Halifax Urban Ministries, allocates $3.5 million for renovations, overrides the recommendation of the Planning and Land Development Regulation Commission and unanimously votes to approve the project.
That’s a lot of moving parts.
Guess when it comes to “doing the right thing” County Manager Jim Dinneen can really get the job done, huh. . .
It’s amazing to me how quickly the marionettes in Volusia County government can move when the right people are working the strings.
Ah, but all was not smooth sailing.
Old Isaac Newton taught us that, “To every action there is always opposed an equal reaction” and the laws of physics can’t be fooled. When people feel that something is being rammed down their throats – trust me – there is going to be a reaction.
In May, citizens in the Derbyshire area came out en masse to voice their fierce opposition to the plan to establish the Hope Place campus in their neighborhood.
You’ve heard of the classic pejorative “NIMBY”? Well, Hope Place is literally in their backyard.
From fear of crime and aggressive vagrants infiltrating their already challenged neighborhood – to questions about how the shelter will ultimately effect property values and what impact the facility will have on their quality-of-life – the citizens very passionately made their case before the Planning and Land Development Regulation Commission.
The Commission, which serves as an advisory board to the Volusia County Council on planning and zoning issues, actually listened to the very real concerns of persons living in the area and voted 4-2 against changing the zoning of the Hurst Elementary property from single family residential to public use.
The zoning change was necessary for the project to move forward.
At the time, Halifax Urban Ministries Executive Director Mark Geallis was quoted in the News-Journal as saying that he had no idea there was such anger over the proposed shelter:
“I was shocked and very saddened that people did not seem to want to listen and consider the community as a whole.”
That seems disingenuous to me.
Perhaps what Rev. Geallis failed to grasp is the fact that when people feel put upon by powerful forces the first thing they want to do is explain their position, discuss their fears, and communicate their thoughts and reasoning.
When people feel disenfranchised they actually want to speak and be heard. They want someone, anyone, to listen to their concerns and alleviate their anxiety. They want others to care about their side of the equation.
While I know this sounds like a quaint concept – people actually want to believe that their elected and appointed officials will take their opinions into consideration before making a decision that will have a very real impact on their lives and livelihoods.
What they don’t want is to be lectured on how “shocked and saddened” those who stand to benefit from their sacrifice are. And it’s hard to consider the “community as a whole” when you’re the one with a hostel for the destitute in your backyard.
(And you can throw as much Chanel No. 5 on that hog as you want – for good or for ill – it’s still a homeless shelter.)
Like most decisions that are made by the Volusia County Council – Hope Place was a foregone conclusion before it was ever placed on the public agenda – and our council members neither want or need your input.
In fact, they consider actually communicating with those most affected by their decisions to be a hindrance to the process.
They know what’s best – so sit down and shut up, you ignorant naif.
All you know, or need to know, is that Mr. and Mrs. Hossieni think this would be a good idea – and if your neighborhood is irreparably impacted, then suck it up for the good of the “community as a whole.”
Stop being a selfish asshole.
If you balk or actually become an obstruction to the “plan” – the powers-that-be will marginalize you with righteous indignation and that oh-so haughty air of self-important superiority. How dare you stand in opposition to the Common Good.
Then they will get in their Range Rovers and drive back to places like Plantation Bay and Breakaway Trails where the gate always closes behind them.
Now, it’s one thing for the influential few to have a good idea for the rest of us – but in order to actually implement “the vision” they need their elected handmaidens to actually get things done.
After all, they are not spending their money – they’re spending yours.
(Don’t get me wrong, I’m sure there are sizable endowments and corporate donations in the mix. There are naming rights at stake here. . .)
That the residents of Derbyshire – as taxpayers and citizens of the County of Volusia – had the out-and-out cheek to even question the outcome of this predetermined “decision” came as quite a surprise to County Chair Jason “I didn’t run for the money” Davis:
“It’s a done deal.”
“Contracts are sitting on desks. The wheels are in motion.”
County Councilman Doug Daniels was even more to the point:
“You don’t have to be a political genius” to figure out that this will pass unanimously.
“This is going to pass. Get used to it,” Daniels said.
Indeed. Get used to it. . .
Chairman Davis told the News-Journal that constituents have called “begging” him to block the project with his vote. But Davis pompously advised that he has been “shooting back a question about where they were when decisions were being made earlier this year.”
You mean back in May, Chairman Davis? When residents were climbing the walls and marching with flaming pitchforks at the Planning and Land Development Commission meeting?
Or when the citizens of Derbyshire were developing petitions, holding neighborhood meetings, wearing shirts emblazoned “NO 2 HOPE PLACE,” speaking to the media, screaming from the rooftops, attending planning sessions, and distributing fliers to anyone and everyone in the area?
Where were they?
Chairman Davis, are you actually insinuating that ANYTHING these good folks could have said or done would have changed the outcome of last Thursday’s vote one iota? Really?
How stupid do you think we are?
Listen up you half-bright, self-important shitheel – you know, and I know, that this decision was cinched the exact second the Hossieni’s insinuated themselves into the process, and the fix was in when the council chambers were stacked to the rafters with the movers-and-shakers of Volusia County’s ruling class.
Stop insulting us with your damnable condescension, Mr. Davis. You’re not that smart – we know it, and you know it.
Your foul term is rapidly coming to a close – and your reign of incompetence will be long remembered as the worst, most ineffectual period in the history of Volusia County.
You’ve been an abject embarrassment to yourself and those who trusted you. Unemployment is tough when you suddenly have no friends and no visible means of support. Enjoy.
Hell, even Doug Daniels had the common decency to drop out of the race and slink away in a fit of shame and self-loathing.
As usual, when all was said and done, Volusia County took a good thing and sullied it with their patented “my way or the highway” approach to non-participatory governance.
Now, the County would have us believe that they will include deed restrictions in the land transfer to Halifax Urban Ministries as a means of limiting and controlling activities on the property.
They have also assured everyone that the Sheriff’s Office will make near constant patrols of the grounds and aggressively deal with any issues that arise. Trust me when I say that Derbyshire has suffered from crime and the fear of victimization for a long, long time. I seriously doubt a homeless assistance center is going to alleviate that.
And even if the facility does have the potential to improve issues in the area, the problem is – no one believes the County’s half-baked promises anymore.
We have been lied to so frequently and so blatantly by that little screw-worm Jim Dinneen and our elected officials that we no longer possess the capacity to take anything they say seriously.
In fact, we begin to question ourselves.
The citizens of Volusia County have, over time, developed an institutional distrust of County government, and our elected officials seem oblivious to the fact that they have lost even a shred of credibility with their constituents. The only ones who seem to care at all are the power brokers who bought and paid for them – like teamsters looking after their mules.
Now, all you do-gooders can go back to your ivory towers and slap each other on the back – maybe even erect a few monuments to your own self-importance (after all, what good is doing good if you can’t put your name on it, eh?)
At the risk of sounding like the paranoid asshole I am, I still ask myself – Qui Bono?
The homeless? Down-and-out families? Unsheltered teens? Or does someone else have their eye on a slice of this $4.5-million-dollar pie?
Time will tell, I suppose.
At the end of the day – the good people of Derbyshire will take one for the team – and the “community as a whole” owes them a sincere debt of gratitude.
You fought the good fight against the rich and powerful who felt they held the moral high ground.
Perhaps they did.
But you took a stand for what you felt was right for your families and just maybe there is some small victory in that.
If it’s any consolation, you never had a choice anyway. Get used to it.
The wheels were already in motion.
(Photo Credit: Daytona Beach News-Journal)