March 12, 2016. The Daytona-Beach News Journal.
DAYTONA BEACH — Despite the city and county governments’ failed attempts to agree on a plan for a new homeless shelter, a group of local leaders is making it clear they are as committed as ever to providing a new place for adults on the streets.
On Monday evening, just before the annual action assembly of the FAITH group that has pushed for years for a new homeless shelter, a half dozen officials will stand united at a press conference to publicize their intentions to help those with no place to call home.
Standing shoulder to shoulder will be Daytona Beach Mayor Derrick Henry, Halifax Urban Ministries Executive Director Mark Geallis, Catholic Charities of Central Florida Executive Director Gary Tester and several clergy members of the FAITH group, which is made up of 32 houses of worship.
“We’ll just continue to educate and not change course,” said FAITH leader Joan Campanaro, whose group hopes to see a 250-bed homeless shelter built on a piece of county land next to Stewart-Marchman-Act’s addiction and mental health care treatment center. “We really do think this is the best option.”
The hangup in the effort to get the new shelter built has come down to operating money. At Monday night’s rally, several local elected officials will be asked to come up on stage and commit in front of the crowd to providing specific amounts of money from their government to operate the shelter or build it. Daytona officials will also be asked if they will agree to own the shelter.
Both Monday’s press conference and rally will be held at the Bethune-Cookman University Performing Arts Center. About 2,000 people are expected to attend the rally that gets underway at 6:30 p.m.
Local officials will also be asked to go on stage and publicly commit to help tackle two other community problems FAITH has identified in its top priorities involving health care and criminal justice. FAITH will ask Halifax Health to increase accessibility to primary health care for the uninsured and provide them with mental health services at their community clinic.
On criminal Justice, FAITH will focus on a bill that failed to make it out of committee during this year’s legislative session. The bill was aimed at protecting children who commit first-time, non-serious misdemeanor offenses from receiving lifelong arrest records. FAITH will still be asking local lawmakers for their continued support on the issue.
In addition to Henry, Geallis and Tester, other local officials expected to get up on stage and answer questions from FAITH are state Rep. Dwayne Taylor, state Rep. David Santiago, several Daytona Beach city commissioners, County Council members Doug Daniels and Joyce Cusack, Ormond Beach Mayor Ed Kelley, DeLand Mayor Bob Apgar, Orange City Mayor Tom Laputka and some Daytona Beach Shores City Council members.
FAITH’s continued push for the comprehensive homeless shelter comes less than two weeks after the County Council rejected Daytona’s latest offer for a shelter agreement. Council members had said if they didn’t hear a solid plan by March 3 for shelter operating funds, they would withdraw their offer for free land and up to $4 million for construction.
While county leaders said March 3 they aren’t completely taking their money off the table, the shelter plan is in more limbo than ever now.
“It does give you moments of pause and temporary defeat,” Campanaro said, who noted her group hasn’t given up on the county and is also searching for new funding sources.
Volusia Safe Harbor is the name initially attached to the proposed 250-bed shelter. But if it’s built, it might not be called Safe Harbor and it might offer fewer than 250 beds, local officials have said.
Another new development in the shelter effort is Catholic Charities of Central Florida offering to help raise shelter money and either taking the lead on running a new shelter or sharing that duty with Halifax Urban Ministries. The plan the past few years was always for HUM to be the operator.
Tester did not return a call seeking comment.
“If there’s a shelter, we all want to work together is HUM’s position,” said Geallis, who noted his organization, Stewart-Marchman-Act and Halifax Health are all still behind the idea for a one-stop shelter. “Whatever is going to help these people in the best way is what we want to be a part of. Maybe that’ll be Safe Harbor, maybe it won’t.”
On Tuesday, the Volusia County School Board is slated to vote on a new family shelter that will be run by HUM out of an old elementary school. If all goes well with that family shelter, HUM plans to convert its 94-bed family shelter on North Street into a refuge for chronically homeless individuals, Geallis said.
On May 15, three local leaders who each spent decades helping those who struggle to stay sheltered will release a detailed report of their suggestions to help Volusia’s homeless.
Daytona’s mayor said he’s not giving up on the shelter.
“I certainly continue to be supportive of a shelter as a part of our collective efforts to help the homeless,” Henry said Friday. “I’m happy with where we are as far as the discussion. I thought the (latest) County Council deliberations were very positive.”
Henry believes a solution will be found eventually.
“The more time we take, the more likely it is to be successful,” he said.