One of First Step Shelter’s first residents expresses gratitude for a roof over his head at Christmastime.
Heath was homeless for most of 2019 but intends to turn over a new leaf with the help of First Step Shelter.
BY ANDREAS BUTLER
Having a roof overhead, a bed to sleep in and meals to eat are all Christmas and birthday gifts for one local man this holiday season.
A grand opening ceremony was held for First Step Shelter in Daytona Beach on Dec. 11, and it officially opened to residents on Dec. 16.
A day later, a man who only wishes to identify himself as Heath checked into the facility; he had turned 53 years old on Dec. 12.
At this moment, it’s all about adjusting to the facility, using its services and working on getting his life back on track.
“It’s a new building and it’s a little shaky, but things are going very well. I’m getting accustomed to the new place. I am very happy to be here for the holidays,” Health told the Daytona Times.
“It’s a big difference than being on the streets. I don’t mind being here for the holidays. I’d rather be here taking care of the things I need to. I am older and the counselors are working with me. I’d rather be here and happy.”
Heath was one of 10 residents living in the facility as of late last week. The goal is to house 45 residents soon and 100 later. The facility has the capacity for 168 beds.
“Things are actually going great. We are ramping up slowly, which has been helpful. We had some glitches with the electrical system. It’s not just getting used to the services for the clients, but we’re making sure everything is functioning and in order,” commented Victoria Fahlberg, executive director of First Step Shelter, Inc.
The facility is receiving positive feedback. Those associated with the shelter are proud that it was up and running in time for the holidays.
“The residents are really happy to be here, especially for the holidays. It’s interesting. They know this isn’t their end goal. One woman I spoke too said this isn’t where she wants to end up, but it is better than where she’s been,’’ Fahlberg shared.
Job loss, then homeless
Meanwhile, 2019 was a rough year for Heath. He had been homeless for seven months after losing his job as a commercial landscaper.
“I lived in New Smyrna, but I traveled a lot working. I had to leave my job. I moved to Daytona and was trying to find somewhere affordable. I was going to live in the Bay View Apartments, which got burned down,” he explained.
“I haven’t been able to find steady work. It’s just harder. I’ve had some uncontrollable circumstances. It’s also a matter of cost of living versus wages.”
Don’t mind location
The location of the homeless shelter had been debated in the past as well. Even homeless people have said it’s too far away being on the outskirts of town. The shelter is located at 3889 W. International Speedway Blvd., Daytona Beach.
“I don’t mind the location. I’m older. I need it. I can understand why some of the others don’t want to come here with it being in the middle of nowhere. It can be scary for some who don’t have anything,” responded Heath.
On negative attitudes
Despite his experiences being homeless, Heath said he understands why people often mistreat them.
“Most of us are doing the right things but one bad apple spoils the whole bunch. I learned that there are those doing stuff to make people have the negative attitudes towards us,’’ he said.
“I’ve been in the safe zones too. I grew up well off and never saw this happening to me. There are some homeless that have bad attitudes, steal, do drugs, etc.”
What shelter provides
First Step Shelter is a 15,000-square-foot facility that serves males and females, but not families.
The shelter has a medical treatment unit, thanks to Halifax Health, Advent Health and Florida Blue.
Stewart-Marchman Act also has counselors at the facility to assist with mental health and substance abuse.
The shelter also provides employment services, jail diversion, help with old criminal cases, housing, transportation, case management and more.
To become a resident of the shelter, a homeless person must be referred by a church, social service agency or law enforcement. Law enforcement has the authority to transport homeless persons to the facility.
The First Step Shelter is owned by the City of Daytona Beach and overseen by the First Step Shelter, Inc. a non-profit set up the city to oversee the shelter.
The day-by-day operations are conducted by Catholic Charities of Central Florida, a non-profit faith based organization based in Orlando.
The shelter needs assistance with finances, volunteers and clothing for its residents.
For more information, to volunteer or donate, call 386-383-0801 or visit www.firststepshelter.org.