BY JAMES HARPER
DAYTONA TIMES STAFF
More than 2,000 Volusia County residents packed the Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune Performing Arts Center on March 18 for F.A.I.T.H.’s (Fighting Against Injustice Towards Harmony) annual Action Assembly. Just a few elected representatives were present to be persuaded to do something about the homeless and jobless issue in the area.
The lack of participation from all Volusia County Council members and mayors and other elected officials from cities in the county upset the two chairs of the group, which is made up of members of 32 churches across the county.
Only Volusia County Council members Joyce Cusack and Josh Wagner along with Mayors Derrick Henry of Daytona Beach and Roy Johnson of Holly Hill plus Daytona Beach City Commissioner Carl Lentz were present.
Father Phil Egito of Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic Church and Dr. L. Ronald Durham of Greater Friendship Baptist Church are co-chairs of F.A.I.T.H.
“We will take the message directly to those who did not show up, voice our disappointment to them for not appearing. We are hoping they will play a role because it affects them,” Durham said.
Will reach out
Durham said they are up against the clock to create a homeless center in the county. He said F.A.I.T.H. will put together a game plan to reach out to mayors and other elected officials who didn’t attend the rally.
“We hope the mayors will be supportive of items on our agenda. We will ask mayors to look at their own budget to find funds to ease the burden of Volusia County Council to create the homeless center,” Durham explained.
Durham said it also is up to citizens to write, email and call all elected officials, especially their county council representatives.
“We want our representatives to help alleviate the condition of homelessness and joblessness in Volusia County,” Durham continued.
Egito: Be part of solution
Egito was specifically upset that more mayors and city council members were not at the rally. He noted that on the east side of the county the homeless problems mainly exists in Daytona Beach and Holly Hill but cities should also want to help solve the problem.
“They should be part of solution because it affects our entire community. If tourists are not coming to Daytona Beach because of the problems, they are not going to other cities,” Egito explained.
“Homelessness affects all of us equally. Daytona shouldn’t bare the brunt of the problem.’’
Egito also is upset that area residents aren’t aware of the many jobs that are available in the area. He also said residents are not qualified to handle the jobs that are available.
“I think all elected officials should have been there. If all of us went to a county council meeting and had spoken for three minutes, we would have been there for weeks,” Egito said.
F.A.I.T.H had Volusia County School Superintendent Margaret Smith at the rally to pledge to do more to educate and train those coming out of the county’s schools.
Smith committed to providing more opportunities for high school students to earn industry certifications that meet workforce needs of Volusia County.
“What we found out is that there are thousands of jobs for people to fill but residents are not qualified or educated. The superientdent has programs already in place to help,” Egito noted.
A representative from the Center for Business Excellence (CBE) also was invited to the rally.
Egito said research found that the CBE is not well-known in the community. “They were not making connection (to those who need the service most). We are counting on them to get with the program.’’
A representative from CBE pledged to update the website with the correct dates and times that the centers are open; provide clear and recognizable signage at the mini-career links; provide training and monitoring for volunteers at your mini career links; and promote their services, create new partnerships, and strengthen existing partnerships outside of the CBE.
As of Jan. 29, there were 2,384 homeless people in Volusia.
Twenty-three percent of the homeless are veterans and 66 percent of them suffer from mental illness, substance abuse problems, or both.
Support for homeless center
F.A.I.T.H. members hope to create a homeless center similar to one operating in Pinellas County called Safe Harbor.
The center has assisted 13,693 people since its opening and only 2.4 percent of those came from out of state and less than 5 percent were from outside the Pinellas area.
The elected officials present at Monday’s F.A.I.T.H. meeting committed to support a proposal for a homeless assistance center; and submit a proposal to the city commission and county council to contribute financially to this project.
The officials also committed to come up with a plan with F.A.I.T.H. representatives to create a center to be open by April 2014, which will include an eventual total of 250 shelter beds for single men and women; jail diversion; case management for all residents and partner with agencies who deal with health care, mental health, addiction assistance and outreach team.
Wagner and Cusack committed to use county land for this homeless assistance center and to meet with F.A.I.T.H. leaders by May 1 and quarterly thereafter, to report on their progress.