Daytona residents continue to advocate for homeless
BY PENNY DICKERSON
Public advocates for homelessness were armed with picket signs and fury at the Aug. 5. Daytona Beach commission meeting. The messages Mayor Derrick L. Henry and six city commissioners were forced to view until the near two-hour session convened read three poignant words each: “Housing Not Handcuffs;” “Shelter Can’t Wait;” and “Beds not Bars.”
The status of homeless citizens in and surrounding Daytona Beach remains a controversial subject of debate and when Item 7 of the city’s public agenda went “live,” public comments offered by representatives from the faith-based community to the homeless themselves addressed the emotional investment of those advocating change.
Despite plans in the works to erect Volusia Safe Harbor, a “Come as you are” 32,800 square-foot homeless facility, a divisive “air” continues to loom. Some local residents believe alternatives are being ignored while the homeless population wants the entire equation simplified:
“All we want is something simple. A place where we can lay our heads at night and not get beat up and harassed by the police,” stated “Ronald,” who addressed the commission on what it is like to live homeless. “A water fountain and a restroom. That’s all we want, that’s all we need. We don’t need some multi-million dollar shelter run by some guy making $1 million dollars a year,” he added.
Shelter with a price
The Volusia Safe Harbor may be open by the fall of 2016 if funding is acquired.
Volusia County has agreed to contribute $4 million and donate a parcel of land, but an additional $1.6 million is still needed. Local municipalities are the targeted contributors and a beverage tax may be a viable source for funds.
Renowned field expert and consultant Richard Marbut is spearheading the project and stated, “Homelessness will likely increase dramatically if the current service model continues.”
Marbut’s 39-page analysis submitted in 2014 included the following:
Moderate climate initially draws homeless to our area.
•Estimated 375 to 400 homeless individuals are located on the western side of the county and 400 to 475 on the eastern side of the county.
•50 percent to 60 percent of homeless individuals have major mental health issues and 70 percent to 80 percent have substance abuse issues and 90 percent of all homeless individuals have at least one or both of these issues.
•To create a successful program, it is important to change the current “culture of enablement” to a “culture of engagement.”
Feed programs alone don’t address the root cause of homelessness.
•When compared to other counties with similar populations, Volusia County has a relatively high number of “street feeders,” meal programs and church pantries.
•Mental/behavioral health, substance abuse, job training and life skills need to be addressed.
Urban core revitalization
A 200-bed, mixed-gender shelter for the chronically homeless is not the only option, according to public advocate Jenny Mazak, who is compiling research and plans to share her findings with the City of Daytona Beach.
Mazak addressed the commission with a perspective on revitalization: “The city has vacant houses and buildings all over its urban core. I have new ideas that would encourage growth if more properties were freed up and lived in, rented, and used.
“Vacant buildings have an impact on crime and property value that demoralizes people from moving in if they see a neighborhood with boarded up and empty buildings,” she added.
Mazak further expressed that it appeared the city had a concern regarding allowing certain organizations and groups to put up beds for the homeless in the urban core in their efforts make it a more desired area.
“I get the impression the city is worried that having homeless shelters in the urban core would negatively impact development,” added Mazak.
‘Someone has to speak’
Mike Pastore approached the city commission’s public podium with a posture to preach. He’s known in the community as “Pastor Mike” and has been appointed to the Volusia/Flagler County Homeless Justice Committee of the American Civil Liberties Union.
In his public comment address, Pastore stated: “Someone has to speak for the poor and destitute in the city. Someone has to ask the questions that no one is asking, someone has to represent the powerless.”
Every Tuesday, Pastore broadcasts live via radio on “Voices from Home.” He predicts there are 329 unsheltered men and women in Daytona Beach and shared that he probably knows half of them by first name.
“This is not an abstract statistic, these are human beings,” Pastore told the commission. “Basic necessities like food, shelter, security can no longer be ignored. Why are they being devalued and disenfranchised. Do they not possess the same rights as all human beings?”
Petition for faster action
A petition generated by Change.org can be found on Pastore’s homeless advocacy website calling for elected officials and leaders in Volusia County to take faster action for emergency shelter for the homeless.
Pastore previously suggested a three-prong approach to the issue: 100 temporary shelter beds by Christmas, 250 emergency shelter beds in 24 months and 100 units of supportive housing as soon as possible.
“You cling to a fantasy that building a building out of town will make your perceived problems go away,” Pastore stated. “Homelessness is not a crime. You can’t make people go where they don’t want to go. The solution is to coexist and it can be accomplished if we work in harmony.”
Citing the failure of South Africa’s apartheid system of separatism and suggesting Daytona set an example for other cities, Pastore closed passionately with six resonate words, “100 beds by Christmas, Mr. Mayor.”