BY ANDREAS BUTLER
A new task force has been created to provide legal and law enforcement input regarding the operations of the First Step Shelter, a proposed emergency homeless shelter in Daytona Beach.
The Volusia Criminal Justice Task Force on Homelessness, which is made up of members of law enforcement, the legal justice system and local politicians, met at Daytona Beach City Hall on March 8.
“We want to address the issues of chronic adult homelessness. Instead of addressing it as a social justice issue, we thought we would do it as a criminal justice issue. When you look at it that way, you are able to zero in on something and focus on some real costs,” said Daytona Beach City Commissioner Aaron Delgado. He also is an attorney.
Money for shelter
The task force also decided cooperating together could help save money, free up the criminal justice system and free up law enforcement to address other crime.
“Our court system is clogged with cases for homelessness, which includes arrests for trespassing, open container and other minor offenses. We spend a tremendous amount of money prosecuting these people,” Delgado related.
“Law enforcement isn’t using that time to protect our citizens. We have identified at least 50 people arrested over 20 times in three years, which costs millions of dollars to persecute. That money could operate a shelter.”
The First Step Shelter is slated to be located near the Volusia County Branch jail.
“Just look at first appearances. Everyone has a legal right to see a judge within 24 hours of being arrested. A judge is available 365 days a year. You have between 50 to 100 people depending upon special events seeing a judge for first appearance,”said Volusia County Court Judge Belle Schumann.
“Ten percent of these people being arrested for homelessness are arrested for trespass and petty offenses that would be diverted to a shelter. Most serve a few days without any services then go back out to streets to be arrested again,’’ she added.
“Homelessness is a countywide problem. I have been in DeLand, DeBary and across the entire county. There are folks living out in the woods. I’ve seen it from a county perspective as sheriff and during my 10-year tenure as Daytona police chief,” commented Sheriff Mike Chitwood.
Daytona Beach Deputy Chief Jakari Young echoed, “This is a countywide problem, but it especially hits home here in Daytona Beach. Anyone that has attended any commission meeting in recent years can see that this is a hot topic. Just look what was in front of the tag office over a year ago.
“You can see the mass homeless population in this city. I am elated that we are at the table moving forward. I think this will help out tremendously. I think law enforcement bears the brunt of dealing with the homeless. It’s never our goal to violate the rights of the homeless. We deal with what is in front of us but we have to protect rights of business owners too,” he continued.
The task force is hoping to use a program in Pinellas County as an example.
“There, the sheriff and state attorney can give homeless individuals options of the shelter or jail for minor and non-violent offenses. It is ‘take them as they are.’ Even intoxicated but non-violents can go to a shelter. They are also provided help services,’’ stated State Attorney R.J. Larizza.
“Right now, we have people going go to jail don’t get help and come right back out. We want this to enhance safety of neighborhood and business community. The state attorney’s office is open to helping these folks get on their feet, but we are also committed to persecuting the habitual offenders that always break the law.’’
Also such a homeless shelter will help law enforcement ensure the civil rights of individuals.
“We also looked at federal civil rights when dealing with the homeless. People are being prosecuting but everyone has civil rights. Without the right laws in place, you can’t protect everyone’s civil rights. We are dealing with two issues, which are police making arrest that are illegal and can’t be upheld in the court of law and the city or county facing a lawsuit,” explained Delgado.
Noted Ormond Beach Mayor Bill Parrington, who is also an attorney, “From Ormond’s municipal perspective, we realize it’s a communitywide issue. Our commission recognizes this and wants to be a good community partner. Also, this puts us in compliance with the law. It’s important that the leaders set the example. Right now we aren’t in compliance with the law.
“This committee will bring us in compliance with the law. From our city perspective for funding we don’t want funding to be an issue forever. As the county jail starts to realize the savings, hopefully they will buy into this,” said Ormond Beach Mayor and local attorney Bill Parrington.
Still, there are critics to the proposed First Step Shelter but those on the task force thinks this is the start worth making.
“Critics say it doesn’t solve the homeless problem, which is true but perfect for so long has been the enemy of good. We can’t solve every facet at once but it doesn’t mean that we can’t get started by having a shelter,” expressed Dan Schaffer of the Public Defenders Office.
Others attending the meeting were Ormond Beach Mayor Bill Parrington, a practicing defense attorney; South Daytona Police Chief Ronald Wright; Daytona Beach Mayor Derrick Henry and Volusia County Council member Heather Post.
Here are some agreements hammered out by the task force at the meeting.
The proposed First Step Shelter will be a 24-hour, come-as-you-are shelter, which is necessary to comply with federal law. It would be unlike any other permanent homeless shelter that has ever been proposed in Volusia County. By following case law, it gives police the legal tools needed to motivate homeless campers into a shelter.
Model ordinances and police protocols would need to be uniform across municipalities.
The shelter should be centrally located in the county. It is also important that the shelter be located away from residential or commercial areas.
Sheltering homeless people while providing them with case management and resources to address their individual circumstances is less costly and more effective than continuing to arrest, transport, processing and jailing non-violent homeless people accused of minor offenses. It costs about $86 a day to jail a person vs. $20 per day to put a person in a shelter.