Volusia Politics: Daytona cries “No Mas!” on Homeless Issues

The old idiom ‘coming full circle’ means returning to the original place from which one started.

From that viewpoint, I think it’s safe to say that the City of Daytona Beach’s efforts to resolve the issue of homelessness have come full circle.

As you may remember, last winter, hordes of the Great Unwashed took up permanent residency at the county administration building on Beach Street after the City of Daytona Beach closed restroom facilities and removed benches from Manatee Island Park.

It was nothing new.

The park closing was just business as usual – the furtherance of a long-term misguided strategy of doing the same thing over-and-over again and expecting different results.

The equal and opposite reaction to Daytona Beach’s public policy of institutional humiliation as a means of “controlling” the homeless population put the issue front-and-center when these unfortunates moved out of the relative obscurity of the bushes and into the public eye.

Nothing gets attention quite like 80 or 90 homeless people collectively relieving themselves on the sidewalk in front of a government building.

I don’t mean to sound shallow.  (Yes I do.  It’s just my “way.”)

As I’ve said before, this is a very difficult problem for government – I dealt with it to various effect for years – the issues are infinite and available funding is not.  When your only tool is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail.  I get it.

But I don’t think Mr. Chisholm and the Daytona Beach City Commission has the luxury of simply throwing their hands in the air and saying, “I don’t want to be in the homeless business anymore,” then drop the issue like a hot rock, either.

As regular readers of this forum know, I have my suspicions that this godawful mess is more about who gets a place at the public trough and less about serving the needs of our homeless population.

It just seems to me that, rather than do the heavy lifting, Daytona Beach desperately wants to find someone to take the reins and make a go of a homeless shelter – and I’ll just bet they are willing to throw some serious money around to make that happen.

Just like Volusia County did, eh?

I mean, it just doesn’t make sense that after a few fits and starts at finding a viable solution to the issue, Daytona Beach simply whines, “It’s too hard” and walks away?

They just give up?

Since when is that an option for government?

“Well, folks, we’re just not smart enough to find an option – and if we can’t go big, we won’t go at all – so we’ve decided to just say ‘fuck it’ and go back to things we can control – like giving your money to developers and funding massive projects for International Speedway Corporation.”

Don’t get me wrong – my hats off to Daytona Beach for even trying – I just think it’s too early for unconditional surrender.

If you want to get into laying blame, well, there’s enough to go around.  Trust me.

Look no further than those tepid fools on the Volusia County Council who abdicated their responsibility for helping to find a cooperative and comprehensive solution months ago.

Frankly, I’ll never forget the arrogance – and ignorance – of players like Josh Wagner and Jim Dinneen – and I hope you don’t either.

During the initial dust-up, Volusia officials kept holding out – then snatching back – an offer of $4 million dollars to fund construction of the proposed 200+ bed “Safe Harbor” shelter on county-owned lands somewhere in the wilds near US-92.

Hell, Daytona was duped by the county so many times it started to look like a bad Roadrunner cartoon.

Of course, the county’s “offer” was accompanied by the usual name-calling and ultimatums as Dinneen repeatedly attempted to hold the cities hostage for long-term operating funds.

Then, in June – ignoring the anguished screams of the surrounding neighborhood – the county voted unanimously to authorize a $3.5 million expenditure to finalize the purchase and renovation of the shuttered Hurst Elementary School for a homeless assistance center ostensibly to serve “families and displaced children.”

Once the renovations are complete, the facility will be gifted to Halifax Urban Ministries.

What?

That’s right, handed to them on a gilded plate – no bids, no performance guarantees, no oversight, no shit.

“Here’s $4.7 million in taxpayer funds and resources.  Good luck.”

Now, I don’t know anything about the Halifax Urban Ministries – or its executive director, the Rev. Mark Geallis – other than he ran some Subway sandwich shops and received his ordination and “BS Degree” from something called Maranatha Christian College over on Nova Road.

Look, don’t get your knickers in a bunch.  I’m just asking questions here.

I’m sure the mission of HUM is to do good work in the community – they always have – and I have no doubt Rev. Geallis is a great guy.  I know some of the names on HUM’s board of directors and they’re solid folks – each strongly committed to helping the less fortunate and making the Halifax area a better place.

I just thought that, perhaps, the powers that be in Volusia County government might want to take a look at all our options – you know, since a few million dollars in public funds are being spent.

Maybe they did and I’m just out-of-the-loop.  Maybe the gift is locked down tight as a drum.

But I doubt it.

What I do know is that the project was championed by Mrs. Forough Hosseini and ramrodded by Jim Dinneen.

Frankly, that’s all you need to know.

I guess now Volusia County can moonwalk back from the fray, slap each other on the back, and say, “Well, we’ve done our part.  We spent your money.  Mori’s happy.  Oh, and here’s your new “family homeless shelter.”  Suck it, Daytona – maybe next time you’ll pony-up when we tell you to.”

Indeed.

Now, the City of Daytona Beach has some 70 dependents housed in Ridgewood Avenue motels – at least until August 11.

What happens then is anyone’s guess – but I would be putting up some rolls of Dannert wire at the County Administration building if I were Jim Dinneen. . .

Apparently the motel option was Daytona’s last/best attempt at the “housing first” strategy preferred by the majority of non-profits, faith-based organizations and local governments who met for the big homeless summit at Daytona State College last month.

According to a recent editorial by the Daytona Beach News-Journal, last week The Guardian reported that the number of homeless people in the United States decreased by 11% between 2010 and 2015.

The decline was attributed to the shift toward “housing first” policies.

Interesting.  But wouldn’t the number of homeless naturally be reduced whenever you take people off the street and shove them in a government subsidized space – be it a fleabag motel or vacant rental properties?

According to proponents of “housing first” – it’s a win-win.

Unless you happen to be the taxpayer footing the bill.

In my view, it’s like sweeping dust under the rug, then raving about how clean the floor is.

The problem is still there – it’s just consolidated and covered for the time being.

I may be wrong (I usually am).

As I’ve previously said, in my view, putting a chronically homeless person – one who is either incapable or unwilling to support themselves – in a subsidized apartment, house, or motel room with no other resources or support (Daytona didn’t even have a plan to feed their dependents) is little more than warehousing people.

The fact is, our area desperately needs a come-as-you-are homeless shelter – and it needs one now.  I think you would agree that there are plenty of locations that could fill the need that aren’t located in the middle of a gated community or the Halifax Yacht Club’s backyard.

Unfortunately, it’s going to require some ingenuity, strategic thinking, and the ability to compromise to make it happen.

That said, I wouldn’t hold out much hope. . .

In my view, you need look no further than this complete abdication of responsibility and leadership by our elected and appointed officials when casting your vote this election season.

These lumps – at both the city and county level – have demonstrated that they simply don’t have the capacity to solve difficult problems, unless it involves throwing huge sums of money into the right hole.

They’ve got that move down pat.

 

 

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