Damn. It’s our fault.
I realize these screeds can sound like a broken record, but nothing angers me more than when those who have made such a mess of things project blame on, We, The Little People – those of us who struggle mightily in an artificial economy, pay exorbitant taxes, and are expected to suffer in silence.
They claim we are ill-informed, disinterested, and unwilling to get involved, and that may be true.
But in my view, this civic and political malaise is the natural result of elected and appointed officials doing everything in their power to shut us out of the process, dismiss our concerns, and limit our input to three short minutes of their valuable time at choreographed public meetings.
This isn’t a recent phenomenon.
The marginalization and exclusion of the governed has been years in the making – and many have learned that in an economic environment ruled by the same five people passing the same nickel around – it is not in their best interest to call foul, speak out, or provide input on the issues that touch our lives and livelihoods here on Florida’s Fun Coast.
Now the only voices that matter belong to our ‘Rich & Powerful’ – the uber-wealthy donor class who have taken a profit out of the Halifax area for years, permitted strategic blight to drive property values into the toilet allowing all the right last names to acquire entire city blocks for pennies on the dollar, and destroyed the allure of our greatest natural asset, a beautiful beach, turned into a forest of ugly poles and confusing signage with our unique heritage given away to developers as a cheap spiff – all punctuated by an omnipresent homeless population whose necessities of life on the street adds to the overall down-at-the-heels feel.
But somehow, it’s our fault?
In a recent article by Eileen Zaffiro-Kean writing in The Daytona Beach News-Journal, “No walk-ins at the First Step Shelter,” we learned that our tax supported homeless shelter in name only will continue to limit admittance to “clients” referred by law enforcement, social service agencies, hospitals, and churches – while slamming the portcullis and turning away any poor soul who makes the arduous trip to that expensive Taj Mahal in the hinterlands off US-92 seeking shelter from the mean streets.
Two-years on, we are told the First Step “programming” (whatever that may be) provides services for 40-50 residents at any given time (served, according to my count, by fourteen staff members).
According to the News-Journal, board member Joan Campanaro – who was once an advocate for the 24/7 come as you are shelter we were promised – now reports:
“Until the shelter raises more money and can hire more caseworkers, Campanaro said she doesn’t see how the facility could increase the number of clients it helps every day. . .”
Ah, there it is – the First Step “Shelter’s” own broken LP: More money (skip), More money (skip), More money (skip). . .
Then came what we were all waiting for, “Mad Mike” Panaggio’s deflection of blame for what everyone knew was a financially unsustainable model going in – an ungrateful community who never gave the less-than-transparent boondoggle a “fair shake”:
“Shelter board member Mike Panaggio said he doesn’t think local residents realize what First Step Shelter accomplishes every week.
“We don’t get a fair shake in the community,” said Panaggio, the founder and CEO of direct marketing company DME Holdings.”
So, once again, it is our fault. . .
In our collective defense, from the outset, I’m not sure anyone connected with the First Step “Shelter” ever took the time to fully explain the mechanics of how a referred, vetted, and vaccinated client is taken into the enigmatic “program” – has their life transformed in “X” number of days/weeks/months/years – and ends up a functioning, self-sustaining adult with the employable skills necessary to live independently in an environment where the median gross monthly rent is now north of $1,075?
And, to my knowledge, fundraising efforts apparently remain limited to Mr. Panaggio baiting and insulting potential donors in weird midnight rants on Facebook. . .
It might also help to remember that in addition to First Step’s $113,000 monthly nut (2020 estimates) which relies on private donations and public infusions, in September 2020, the Volusia County Council directed some $1.09 million in federal CARES Act funding to the needy “shelter” – a cash windfall we were told would be used to hire even more staff, build a 1,000 square foot addition, dedicated computer room, a floor-to-ceiling partition for the multipurpose room, with the remainder of the federal manna being used to:
“…hang microfiber curtains around bunk beds to prevent germ transmission; install motion-activated faucets, urinals and toilets; add UV air disinfection units; build outdoor patio roofs; buy patio furniture; purchase high-grade washers and dryers; hire a housing coordinator who would help find residents places to live; and add another new full-time employee who would monitor residents for up to 12 months after they moved into permanent housing.”
But I’m a naysayer. The Volusia County Curmudgeon.
“Barker the Bitcher.”
A disgruntled asshole always pointing out the dark side – marginalized by sitting elected officials and those who own the paper on their political souls – as they desperately seek to deflect their own gross ineptitude onto anyone who dares challenge the status quo.
And everyone who is anyone in the Halifax area power structure would prefer you ignore my ravings and focus on their message exclusively.
The illusory truth effect tells us if a person – or populous – is berated long enough, made to feel lesser than those who rule over them, eventually they will begin to believe it.
If a citizenry is forced to pass the same blight and omnipresent homeless population – decade after decade – they will eventually become desensitized and begin to accept it – and even those ‘movers & shakers’ with the power to do something about it seem oblivious as they drive through the squalor on their way to another gilded soiree to accept a civic award or accolade for perpetuating it.
The message our ‘powers that be’ don’t want you to hear is that We, The Little People have the ultimate ability to fundamentally change things through the power of the ballot box – to free ourselves from the stagnant status quo and return our local governments to a form that works for all of us – not just the entrenched insiders, self-serving manipulators, and the malleable politicians they control.
It only becomes ‘our fault’ when we fail to wield the power of the vote effectively.
I hope you will consider that this election season.