Having their say on homelessness

Panelists at Tuesday’s forum address questions about homelessness in the area. The forum included an update on the First Step Shelter.

City, county leaders answer questions about shelter, housing during community forum


Homelessness continues to be a blemish on American society. It’s also prevalent here in Daytona Beach and Volusia County.

An open question-and-answer forum on Tuesday about the homelessness and the planned First Step Shelter was held at Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic Church, 1014. N. Halifax Ave, Daytona Beach. It was hosted by the Daytona Beach News-Journal and moderated by Pat Rice, its editor.

Let the pros run it
Panelists included Daytona Beach Community Relations Manager, Dr. L. Ronald Durham; Volusia County Sheriff Mike Chitwood; Catholic Charities of Central Florida Executive Director Gary Tester; and Ormond Beach Mayor Bill Partington.

“Homelessness is a countywide issue that needs a countywide solution. If you let the government run this, it will screw it up,” Chitwood said.

“The government’s job is to open doors and let professionals and social organizations handle the situation. Government then needs to get the information out and assist people in getting to these organizations. We have the professionals here. We need to let them do the work.”

A large crowd attends Tuesday night’s forum at Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic Church in Daytona Beach.

‘One safe zone’
Charlie Welsh noted that two thirds of homeless people are homeless not by choice and asked the panel what are they doing for those in need right now, while they currently need help.

“We have one safe zone, which is an overnight place where individuals can be as long as they follow the rules. We are discussing creating another in another area,” noted Durham.

Where’s the help?
Linda Smiley questioned the panelists on how they plan to house the homeless as well. She asked why they won’t help built affordable housing instead of helping developers build “fancy and empty condos.”

“People need to distinguish the difference between affordable and low-income housing they are not the same, they’re completely different. There are developers willing to do those projects. There are groups of people working on this issue and know how to get it done. We are in discussions in just about every municipality,” Partington responded.

Questions about shelter
John Wagner asked if people getting out of jail or prison who are homeless would be allowed to go to the First Step Shelter.

Durham responded, “Yes, they will as long as there is room but not if the facility was full.”

A groundbreaking ceremony for the First Step Shelter was held last week. The facility will be located on Red John Road off Highway 92 near the Volusia County branch jail.

The panel discussed various issues such as the status of the shelter, transportation to and from the facility, services it will provide, who qualifies to live in the facility, and more.

Scenes from early last year when the homeless flocked to a county administration building in Daytona Beach following the ending of the Bridge Bed program at the Salvation Army also were mentioned.

“When the Salvation Army ended their 180 program, we had moved 65 people into two hotels on US 1 for 10 days and worked on getting them jobs,” Durham explained.

“We couldn’t move 18 people, but we put them in Restoration House, a program that is still going and has helped many people. We are now building a comprehensive shelter and working on transportation to get people into the facility,” he added.

Panhandling concerns
Panhandling also was addressed because residents are concerned about scores of homeless people with signs asking for money, work and help.

“There are laws that protect panhandling under the First Amendment under the Constitution. There isn’t much that can be done unless they get into threatening, violent or hindering behavior that threatens traffic and are arrested on the spot,” said Partington.

Chitwood added, “You used to be able to designate certain areas for panhandling but the Supreme Court ended that.”

Shelter agreement
Earlier that day, the First Step Shelter board of directors held a meeting.

They worked out an agreement with Catholic Charities of Central Florida to manage the facility.

“The biggest item on the agenda was the contract between the two entities. It was a long and tough process for both,” said Durham.

The City of Daytona Beach owns the building. The First Step Shelter, Inc. a 501©(3)non-profit organization, which oversees the facility, will pay Catholic Charities to manage, operate and maintenance the shelter.

The agreement gives Catholic Charities a $90,000 per year startup fee to be paid in monthly installments until the facility opens. When the facility opens, Catholic Charities get a management fee, which is 10 percent of the annual budget.

Design work underway
The city and architect team are reworking the design of the building. It was reported last week that the completion of construction would be pushed back from 2018 to 2019.

“We are looking to speed up the design process and construction itself. We are hopeful and confident that it will be built in 2018. That is our goal,” Durham related.

“We will do everything in our power to speed up that process. We are looking at incorporating city staff to help architect and final contractor to move the process along quickly as we possibly can.’’



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