Somethings in government transcend politics.
For instance, our first responders are often required to make split-second decisions that can mean the difference between life-and-death – and public works officials have the operational flexibility to adjust processes and make critical infrastructure repairs without waiting on a majority decision from the elected body.
In my view, good local governance starts with committed elected officials who understand their important role – setting sound public policy – then allowing the professional manager and various departments to deliver critical services.
Unfortunately, it rarely works that way.
When you add contractors, “public/private” partnerships, the outsized influence of political insiders, needy special interests, the mercurial change in constituent wants, jurisdictional competition, natural disasters, egos and personalities – all coupled with a thousand internal and external issues that change daily – government becomes an exercise in plate-spinning.
These variables are why we have come to accept the gross inefficiencies and glacial pace of government.
But sometimes a civic need is so critical to the community’s long-term viability that it requires public entities come together, work cooperatively, and put aside petty differences to find strategic solutions.
There are distinct differences in the mosaic of east Volusia municipalities. For instance, Ponce Inlet is as different from Holly Hill as Edgewater is from Port Orange – yet, we still face common threats that require a united response and strong leadership from our county government.
None of these challenges is more pressing – or more visible – than the malignancy of chronic homelessness.
After years of bickering evolved into a chronic torpor that hampered any substantive progress on the issue, in 2016, the City of Daytona Beach was instrumental in forming the nonprofit First Step Shelter, Inc., a diverse consortium of government and community leaders, business people and social services, charged with developing and overseeing homelessness eradication efforts.
Following a series of fits and starts, the First Step Shelter board finally found its footing and hammered out a viable solution in the form of a come-as-you-are shelter on land owned by the City of Daytona Beach west of I-95.
That Herculean effort included dragging Volusia County officials away from their divisive, long-standing refusal to even consider funding shelter operations and a symbiotic, multi-jurisdictional solution was finally agreed upon.
It was historic – like peace in the Middle East – serious people took on a decades-old intractable problem and found equitable funding and a compassionate solution.
Almost simultaneous to the First Step efforts, community activist Forough Hosseini worked diligently with Volusia County officials to develop a residential program for homeless families and children.
In just six short months, Volusia County officials identified the former Hurst Elementary campus as a suitable location for a homeless assistance center.
In that time, the county purchased the property from the School Board (with structures valued at $1.3 million) for the bargain price of just $200,000, negotiated a land transfer and operations contract with Halifax Urban Ministries, allocated $3.5-million for renovations, side-stepped the recommendations of the Planning and Land Development Regulation Commission and unanimously voted to approve the project.
Now – nothing. Crickets.
For the first time in a longtime (ever?) business leaders, social service providers, municipal officials and county government have finally agreed on something beneficial – yet we’ve apparently come to a full-stop – chained to an arbitrary timeline developed by a city hired architect – which pushes the shelter’s opening back nearly two-years.
And things don’t appear to be moving any quicker at the Hope Place site on Derbyshire Road.
In my repetitive observations, it appears that construction is being done by two guys after work – and the general condition of the property leaves the unmistakable impression that the fears expressed by area homeowners are proving true – and the doors aren’t even open.
Meanwhile, the long-suffering residents and businesses in the Halifax area are increasingly frustrated by the proliferation of homeless in public parks, loitering outside establishments, and begging at literally every intersection in the area.
Make no mistake – this is not an enforcement issue.
Daytona Beach Police Chief Craig Capri is right when he says that homelessness is not a crime – and it takes courage to say so.
All people have a legal right to peaceably assemble in public places, to congregate for lawful purposes and even beg for spare change at major intersections.
Despite the optics, under the law, homeless people have a right to “be.”
Chronic homelessness is not a law enforcement problem – it is an entrenched, multi-faceted social issue that transcends both the purpose, and capabilities, of government.
For many years, the overriding concern of public officials was not in solving the “homeless problem,” but rather eliminating the visibility of the issue in the community.
That took the form of everything from institutional humiliation to patently unconstitutional enforcement programs designed to geographically contain the problem – or starve it out by eliminating service providers.
Yet, the core problem remains.
Is the First Step Shelter a panacea for the crisis? Not by a long shot.
But it does provide viable options for local government – and a compassionate shelter for those seeking refuge from the mean streets – and that’s an infinitely better situation than we have in the winter of 2017.
I agree with the Daytona Beach News-Journal – and the unified voices of serious heavy-hitters from County Council Chairman Ed Kelley, to South Daytona Mayor Bill Hall and Holly Hill City Manager Joe Forte – the foot-dragging on the First Step shelter must end.
It is time for our “powers that be” to demand that preparations and permitting for this long-needed shelter be expedited by the city’s contractor and project manager – and it’s time We, The People received an explanation for the stagnation at Hope Place.
If those who are currently being paid to move these projects forward are unwilling or unable to meet reasonable goals, perhaps it’s time to find someone who can.