By Patrick McCallister
For Hometown News
Sometimes it takes a little F.A.I.T.H.
Fighting Against Injustice Toward Harmony, F.A.I.T.H., conducted its annual Action Assembly Monday, March 18. The assembly attracted about 1,600 to hear what two Volusia County Council members and other elected officials had to say about the social-justice organization's proposal for a government-funded homeless-assistance center by April 2014.
Luke Miller, homeless committee co-chair, said that Volusia County Court Judge Belle B. Schumann presented F.A.I.T.H. with a homeless-assistance center model now used in Pinellas and Miami-Dade counties.
Mr. Miller said the organization researched the idea and found it could reduce Volusia's costs for homelessness in several ways, starting with incarceration expenses that are estimated to be about $71 a day for each inmate at the Volusia County Correctional Facility and Branch Jail.
"Individuals right now who get caught on city ordinances, issues that have to do with being homeless -- sleeping, trespassing, urinating, drinking -- a lot of times (police are) forced to bring them into jail," he said in an interview after the meeting. "They'd be able to bring them to a homeless-assistance center."
Mr. Miller is the director of operations at Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic Church in Daytona Beach.
"They were able to reduce homelessness significantly and save costs," he said. "The south Florida model, they were able to make the costs $13 a day, which is a huge difference from the $71 a day for jail."
One of the founding members -- Rev. John T. Long from Tubman King Community Church, Daytona Beach -- said F.A.I.T.H. started about 12 years ago when faith-based organizations realized they were often tackling the same social concerns.
"F.A.I.T.H. is an organization of organizations," he said. "It's an organization of faith-based organizations. Churches, temples, mosques and other organizations in the community that are motivated by faith."
F.A.I.T.H. has 32 member organizations. Almost all are on the east side of the county. The two council members who agreed to attend the assembly were at large member Joyce Cusack of DeLand and Josh Wagner of Port Orange. Both told the audience they supported the proposed homeless-assistance center.
The organization uses some controversial tactics that council member Pat Northey of Deltona said keeps her away from its meetings. F.A.I.T.H. invites elected officials to attend meetings, presents its proposals and asks the officials to say 'yes' or 'no' to supporting them.
"They're well-intentioned people," she said. "I know a lot of them personally and I like them personally. It's uncomfortable as a public official to go and have to give a 'yes' or 'no' answer, so I don't go."
Mr. Wagner said elected officials should be willing to publicly give 'yes' or 'no' answers about specific proposals. Too often, he said, elected officials avoid giving commitments to specific proposals, and he's pleased that F.A.I.T.H. demands them.
"A lot of times, there are 'yes' or 'no' questions," he said.
Rev. Wendell Raulerson, pastor of Greater Bethlehem Baptist Church in DeLand, defended the publicly bullish approach F.A.I.T.H. takes with public figures. He noted they're given information about the proposals months ahead of meetings, so they can do their own investigations. Also, he said invited public figures that don't support F.A.I.T.H.'s proposals are given an opportunity to explain the reasons.
Rev. Raulerson said the proof of the pudding is in the tasting. He said in its 12 years, F.A.I.T.H. has succeeded at getting a number of reforms established in Volusia.
"I believe both faiths, the phenomenon and the organization, work," he said.
Among other successes Rev. Raulerson pointed to is the Sentencing Alternatives for Volusia Enforcement docket. The court program allows some individuals with minor, non-violent violations to work off court fines through volunteer and self-improvement programs.
Judge Schumann and F.A.I.T.H. were driving forces to get the County Council to adopt the program and start it with a $50,000 grant last year.
Mr. Miller said F.A.I.T.H. wants the proposed homeless-assistance center to have space for about 250 individuals. It's dissimilar to another proposal that's been around for several years, Tiger Bay Village. Those supporting the proposed Tiger Bay Village want a location to permanently house chronically homeless individuals.
"This is a short term solution," Mr. Miller said. "This is something individuals go in, get a case manager, a plan on what to do next, and be able to work on that plan. It's not a place for them to be forever."
F.A.I.T.H.'s next meeting will be at 6:30 p.m. May 13 at Our Lady of Hope Catholic Church in Port Orange. For information, call (386) 238-7060.