BY ASHLEY D. THOMAS
Homelessness and criminal justice will be the topics of discussion at the Performing Arts Center of Bethune-Cookman University on April 7.
The Annual Action Assembly of the Fighting Against Injustice Toward Harmony (F.A.I.T.H.) organization will meet with local city and county officials to discuss their concerns.
F.A.I.T.H., an inter-faith organization comprised of 32 congregations in Volusia County, has a 13-year history of mobilizing large numbers of people around issues of injustice.
More than 2,000 people are expected to attend the event. The Action Assembly is free and open to the public. It will be held April 7 at 6:30 p.m.
At the Action Assembly, F.A.I.T.H. will ask for commitments from members of the Volusia County Council to donate land already owned by the county for a shelter to be open 24 hours, seven days a week that will include case management, intake center, beds, food and medical services.
All Volusia county cities will be asked to work together to fund the shelter and the City of Daytona Beach to operate it.
Goal: 250 beds
Father Phil Egitto, co-chair of F.A.I.T.H., expressed his concern with the growing homeless community in an interview with the Daytona Times.
“We really need the entire community to care about our homeless brothers and sisters.
There are veterans, the mentally ill, there all types of people who are homeless,” Egitto remarked. “Our goal is to get a 250-bed facility for people who are homeless.”
“Conservative estimates are that there are between 2,500 and 5,000 homeless every night in Volusia County. Even if they are approved for Section 8 housing, where do they live while they wait for Section 8?”
According to F.A.I.T.H., there are more than 2,000 homeless children in Volusia County’s schools and although there are more than 5,000 homeless people in the county, there are only 21 emergency beds for single homeless people.
Concerned about youth arrests
The organization will continue a conversation on how young people are marred through adulthood, being arrested in schools and left with a permanent record.
Volusia County is the sixth-highest county of youth arrests in the state.
F.A.I.T.H. proponents argue that this record is a barrier to future employment, military involvement and college scholarships.
The Rev. Nathan Mugala, also a co-chair of F.A.I.T.H., doesn’t believe that bad behavior should go unpunished. However, he says that alternate measures, which do not have permanent effects, should be put into place, including civil citations.
“Right now the numbers show that in Daytona Beach only two percent of those who qualify for civil citations actually get them. Our goal is to make sure that information is shared in our community and across the county so that people know that civil citations are available for those that are first-time offenders and it is just a misdemeanor.”
At the April 7 Action Assembly, the group will ask Margaret Smith, Superintendent of Volusia County Schools, to recommend changes to the Schools Code of Conduct based on best practices across the country that reduce out-of-schools suspensions and referrals to law enforcement.
“They should have to do community service or there may be other repercussions but it doesn’t go on their permanent record,” Egitto said.
The group stresses that as the City of Daytona Beach has very low numbers of eligible youth being offered civil citations. They are asking Chief Michael Chitwood of the Daytona Beach Police Department to significantly increase his officers’ usage of civil citations to eligible youth and to be an advocate with his fellow police chiefs for them to use more civil citations as well.
If you or someone you know is experiencing homelessness, call the United Way of Volusia and Flagler Counties at 2-1-1, the Volusia/Flagler County Coalition for the Homeless at 386-279-0029 or the F.A.I.T.H. office at 386-238-7060.