On Sunday, Halifax area residents were treated to another excellent exposé by Eileen Zaffiro-Kean writing in The Daytona Beach News-Journal, this time pointing out the seasonal occupation of beachside parks by homeless persons – and all that comes for area residents and visitors when the great unwashed hoards return. . .
A tableau of public urination/defecation, splash pads turned rudimentary washing machines, exposed bathing in beach showers, sleeping in pavilions, fouling picnic amenities, aggressive panhandling, open drug use, hypodermic needles littering the ground, raging alcoholism, and mental illness laid bare in our core tourist area.
Make no mistake – this is not a ‘policing problem’ – a situation that would go away if the rules were enforced with greater vigor – and no one has done more to alleviate the problem where the rubber meets the road than Chief Craig Capri.
If we’ve learned anything, it is that a community cannot ‘arrest’ or humiliate its way out of this intractable social issue, because homeless persons have a right to be – just like the rest of us – and many simply want a safe low barrier alternative to the mean streets.
Unlike our elected officials, Chief Capri doesn’t have the luxury of sitting around discussing the theoretical aspects of the “homeless problem” – because he must deal with the gritty reality of the issue every day – and he has done a masterful job reducing the horrific visuals and impact in our core tourist area and beyond.
The Daytona Beach Police Department has been on the cutting edge of innovative solutions, including championing last years panhandling ordinance that saw roving bands of professional medicants removed from every intersection in the area virtually overnight.
Clearly, it helps if law enforcement has the basic tools to do their job.
Now, we learn that, after battling the nuisance crime and public sanitation problems inherent to the interface of homeless camps and our core tourist area, “up until about a week ago,” Volusia County failed to post park rules in beachfront county parks – a sensible measure that would allow Daytona Beach police officers to enforce specific prohibitions.
My God. . .
I guess county officials were preoccupied posting No Parking signs in upscale beachfront neighborhoods and increasing fines for Volusia County residents to show how responsive Dishonest Deb Denys is to her well-heeled political benefactors, eh?
According to the News-Journal, Daytona Beach City Commissioner Quanita May is questioning why – with the Volusia County Beach Safety headquarters located immediately next door to the county-owned park – “why the situation hasn’t been dealt with sooner.”
Commissioner May is right. This oversight is inexcusable.
Now, Volusia County Councilwoman Billie Wheeler claims she has been getting complaints from residents for “a few months,” and has passed citizen concerns to county staff “every day.”
So why hasn’t anything of substance been accomplished for months?
And exactly which Rip Van Winkle in the executive suite at Volusia County Beach Safety will Councilwoman Wheeler hold accountable for dropping the ball?
Frankly, with her election just two-weeks away, Ms. Wheeler should be screaming from the rooftop of the Thomas C. Kelly Administration Building – while she still has a voice relative to the discussion. . .
Exactly where does the buck stop in Volusia County?
Years ago, when it came time for our elected officials in the City of Daytona Beach and the County of Volusia to find a collective solution to a countywide problem – the Volusia County Council abdicated all responsibility beyond throwing our money around – leaving the Daytona Beach City Commission to take the lead.
While other communities, like the City of DeLand, saw a problem and developed an innovative homegrown solution to provide services, shelter and options – the Daytona Beach City Commission exacerbated a full-blown crisis with an astronomically expensive self-improvement seminar masquerading as a “shelter” that serves only those who operate it.
To say the First Step Shelter has been a shit-show of epic proportions is an understatement – and the chronology of this civic disaster serves as a tragic blueprint for how not to establish, operate and administrate a homeless shelter.
Shockingly, a homeless person interviewed for the News-Journal article (who claims to have been arrested some 205 times) said of the First Step “program,” “It’s like a jail,” he said of the shelter, which offers assistance with everything from getting a job to moving into permanent housing. “I would never recommend it to anyone.”
Wow. . .
In fact, for most of this year, the population of the First Step Shelter has been less than the number of people hired to run it – and, after months of inactivity, only recently did administrators get around to developing a quarantine system that will allow intake to resume.
Of course, First Step director, Dr. Victoria Fahlberg, throws the blame on an inability to access rapid COVID-19 testing, so, instead of adapting, the “shelter” simply stopped providing services to homeless persons.
That is one way to address the problem, I guess. . .
Conversely, The Bridge – which serves West Volusia – recently opened its doors and accepted its first residential client on September 21.
It is everything the First Step Shelter is not.
According to reports, the $2.1 million facility is operated by The Neighborhood Center, an established community non-profit committed to reducing homelessness in West Volusia.
In addition to giving DeLand police a compassionate place to relocate homeless persons (rather than trying in vain to get them accepted at the First Step Shelter in the hinterlands off US-92) The Bridge also provides nutritious come-as-you-are meals, health screenings, service referrals, and, if wanted, a transitional housing program leading to a more permanent solution.
Now, residents are referring to The Bridge as “an answer to prayer,” which is a far cry from the First Step’s widening reputation as a gulag.
Unfortunately, the News-Journal’s outstanding deep-dives into the social, civic and economic issues that plague the Halifax area often fall on deaf ears in the council chambers, chambers of commerce, and boardrooms of East Volusia – places where these startling revelations should have the most impact.
When will enough-be-enough?
When will those who receive public funds to serve in the public interest in Volusia County’s Ivory Tower of Power be held accountable for their acts and omissions – like failing to simply post a list of enforceable rules in county-run parks before residents and visitors are set upon and our publicly-owned amenities ruined?
News Alert: There is an election next month.
It is something long-suffering Volusia County residents might want to pay attention to.
Please join Barker’s View this afternoon on GovStuff Live! with Big John beginning at 4:00pm. We will be taking your calls and discussing the issues of the day on the “fastest two-hours in radio!”
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Today, our guest will be Joan Anthony, candidate for Seventh Judicial Circuit Judge!