BY ANDREAS BUTLER
Daytona Beach has had scenes of homeless people sleeping and camping outside of the Volusia County building on Beach Street.
Holly Hill recently had residents protest Halifax Urban Ministries’ plan to turn the closed Hurst Elementary School into Hope Place a homeless sanctuary for families.
One local municipality seems to be moving forward on finding a solution.
The DeLand City Commission held a special meeting on Monday, which brought local organizations, faith-based organizations, businesses and residents together.
“We wanted a comprehensive workshop. We want everyone to be a part of the solution. We want a plan that will be accepted by everyone involved in addressing this issue,” said DeLand Mayor Robert Apgar.
Commissioner Jessica Davis echoed,” Homelessness is definitely something that I wanted to help with when I was first elected. I grew up in a situation that was always on the fringes of being homeless. We moved around a lot. I like this grassroots community effort that everyone is putting forth.”
DeLand is planning to expand the Neighborhood Center of West Volusia for a construction price tag of $1 million. The estimated operating cost will be more than $350,000 per year. The center currently provides emergency housing for the area’s homeless.
The city has budgeted $75,000 toward the shelter. The Volusia County Council already already had planned to donate land and $4 million for a shelter on the west side of Daytona Beach.
However, plans for that shelter have stalled.
The DeLand shelter calls for 20 crisis shelter beds to start and the potential to eventually house 250.
“Issues like substance abuse and mental health can be treated. Homelessness can be solved. We can end it. How do we do that? … We open the door for people to come in and find a way to put them in permanent housing,” said Susan Clark, executive director of the Neighborhood Center of West Volusia.
Needs for the homeless varies. The needs can include shelter, employment, contact with out of town family, a ticket back home, medicine, food and clothing.
“They can be anybody, including a friend or relative. Many have just fallen into this condition. A lot of times unemployment is a factor. Our goal is to have them become re-employed. Also these people need to be a part of a community. Many have been marginalized, labeled or stigmatized for some reason. We must treat them like real people,” Clark noted.
Day care included
The Neighborhood Center of West Volusia, a non-profit organization, provides the only West Volusia homeless shelter.
The center provides housing assistance, a food pantry, a thrift store and emergency assistance with utilities and rent.
The new shelter in DeLand would include a day center, which would assist the homeless during the daytime. It also could include a computer room, multi-purpose room and job search assistance.
The Neighborhood Center would run the new proposed facility.
“There is definitely a need for such a facility in West Volusia County,” added Clark.
The Neighborhood Center, located at 434 S. Woodland Blvd., currently has an emergency center with 10 emergency beds currently housing six male adults and four female adults. The shelter is provided for 30 days and there is a waiting list.
The center provides transitional housing for single men and women up to one year and there’s also the Heart House, located at 114 W. Waltz Ave. It provides transitional housing for single and two-parent families up to a year. It currently houses four families headed by single women
The Neighborhood Center is building a new thrift store and converting its thrift store to a transitional housing facility on Woodland Boulevard. This could add up to 20 new beds.
Construction will cost around $300,000 with the facility expected to be completed by June 2017.
Positive community reaction
Many who attended the meeting were pleased with the city’s plans.
“I’ve been to plenty of city council meetings in communities across this country. I am impressed.
This presentation was excellent. A lot of things were covered. The only thing that I didn’t see covered was transparency, but I think you’re on the right track,” commented Thomas Rebman, CEO of Homeless and Hungry based in Orlando.
Faith-based organizations also have partnered to address the homeless situation. Over 23 congregations on the west side of the county have teamed up to share ideas and information. They provide feeding, fiscal help, mentoring, and showers.
Most faith-based organizations support Volusia Safe Harbor, which was created by F.A.I.T.H. (Fighting Against Injustice Toward Harmony) and Volusia County Judge Belle Shumann four years ago.
The idea is for 24-hour assistance designed to help people get from homelessness to stable housing.
“We support the Volusia Safe Harbor plan, which is a 100-bed come-as-you-are facility. It would have all of the resources needed for people to transition out of homelessness in one location. We recognize it’s a countywide problem and there is a need for a systemized approached that would be structured. We already have Halifax Urban Ministries, Stewart-Marchman and other successful programs that could be working out of that facility,” said the Rev. Susanna Orensky, pastor of Deltona Christian Church.
Other organizations that attended the meeting and gave presentations included the Commission on Homelessness for Volusia/Flagler Counties Family Renew and DeLand area faith-based organizations.