By Erika Webb
Local governments and agencies are mobilizing to address homelessness in Volusia County.
City leaders and stakeholders are uniting and looking to the developer of a Pinellas County program to come up with a strategic action plan in Volusia.
Their hope is to create a Volusia County Safe Harbor Transitional Shelter as a cost-effective means to keep the homeless out of the criminal justice system.
Daytona Beach City Manager James V. Chisholm sent a letter to neighboring cities and organizations throughout the county at the end of February, requesting support for a study on homelessness that will be conducted by Pinellas County's Safe Harbor architect, Dr. Robert Marbut of Marbut Consulting.
"Dr. Marbut's proposal is to develop a plan specifically for Volusia County based on direct personal observation and research as well as considerable input from key stakeholders," Mr. Chisholm wrote.
The City of Daytona Beach will fund the entire amount contracted if needed, he explained, calling the study "a critical first step" but stated contributions are welcome.
"Homelessness in Volusia County is not one city's problem and we look forward to partnering with other communities to find solutions," Mr. Chisholm wrote.
The Orange City City Council voted March 11 to adopt a resolution to support the proposed transitional shelter. It joined the Volusia Council of Governments, the Volusia League of Cities, the Volusia/Flagler Homeless Coalition, Halifax Urban Ministries, Haven Recovery Center, Daytona State College, the cities of Ormond Beach and New Smyrna Beach in supporting the project.
Pinellas Safe Harbor is a homeless shelter designed to be a safe haven for the homeless who require services to get back on their feet, according to safeharborpinellas.org.
"'The Harbor' came into being as a result of a series of partnerships involving the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office, the City of St. Petersburg, Pinellas County Government and numerous homeless service providers in Pinellas County," the website states. "This group saw the need to better serve the chronically homeless, keep them out of the county jail and the criminal justice system, and give them the necessary tools to redirect their lives."
Daytona Beach Deputy City Manager Paul McKitrick said Judge Belle Schumann was the project's early champion.
"Through perseverance she spread the word about what was happening in Pinellas County and what should be done here," Mr. McKitrick said.
Mr. Chisholm solicited the approval of Daytona Beach City Commissioners and Mayor Derrick Henry, who were particularly interested in the Safe Harbor principals, he added.
Lynne Stevens lives in a small apartment in Daytona Beach.
From her window she can see people filing into the Coalition for The Homeless. At all hours of the day and night, she sees the have-nots walking past her building, toting their lives in backpacks.
She understands how much more they really carry, how heavy it is.
Ms. Stevens, a former Registered Nurse who has worked in hospitals, psychiatric wards and prisons, was among the homeless on and off for 10 years.
Circumstances, illness and wrong turns led her to the streets. Once there, the obstacles piled up and true shelter became a mirage she would reach for only to find there was nothing there.
She considers herself fortunate because she, at least, had a car for most of the time she was without a home.
Moving her tiny car from place to place to avoid trouble with the law was exhausting and sometimes, without money for gas, impossible. Fear was a way of life.
"You just wish you could disappear ... if you just didn't have a body, they wouldn't be able to see you and you wouldn't have to fear going to jail," Ms. Stevens said.
Her heart goes out to those who have only their two legs to get them from meal to meal or illegal bench to illegal bench.
Being homeless is, for all intents and purposes, against the law.
Ms. Stevens never will forget the kindness of others along the way -- First United Methodist Church in DeLand where the interfaith kitchen is open Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday and some Saturdays from 5:45 to 6:45 p.m.; St. Barnabas Episcopal church which often provided a meal on Wednesdays; Goodwill; the public libraries, where she could borrow reading material and use the computers; the transitional housing program at the Salvation Army in Daytona Beach and the YMCA where she could shower for $3.
Though, she said, some of the finest people she's ever met were among the homeless and also existed in a vicious circle -- simply "run aground" -- there were dangerous people out there, too.
"They know you can't call the police," Ms. Stevens said. "If you have no identification, there is no protection."
Without an address, there was no way for her to obtain the official picture identification to prove her identity.
"It's scary out there and homeless women are victimized horribly," Ms. Stevens said.
Today she's eligible for Social Security and government-subsidized housing for seniors. She is amazed she survived.
"There are a lot of seniors out there," she said. "I see people that look a lot older than me out there."
For Ms. Stevens, the bridge from the streets to permanent shelter was Haven Recovery on High Street in Daytona Beach, followed by a stay at a halfway house.
But space is so limited, she said, adding that repeatedly finding doors closed and locked can lead to loss of hope and end lives.
"When you lose hope, you're done for," she said.
Will a facility like Safe Harbor make a difference?
"Oh my gosh, yes!" Ms. Stevens said.
The proposed location in Volusia County is near the Stewart Marchman facility (west of Daytona Beach off U.S. 92), according to a report compiled by VCOG Executive Director Mary Swiderski.
Mr. McKitrick said a site has not been identified, but said it will be somewhere on Indian Lake Road.
"The cost to detain prisoners during the two-day minimum stay is now $140 ($70 per day)," Mrs. Swiderski reported. "The cost to house homeless in a Safe Harbor type shelter would be reduced to $13 per day. This would result in a $57 per day, per person savings. For one person this would equate to $20,805 annually."
A facility built near the County Jail would have to be placed on land owned by the county. Since the county does not have a vacant facility that could be used to house the homeless who have committed petty crimes, a new building would have to be constructed, her report stated.
"Who would incur the capital cost of the building has not yet been determined; if it would be a government or nonprofit agency," Mrs. Swiderski noted.
The lead organization could subsidize the cost of the facility by applying for grants through both state and federal governments, she advised, adding, "regardless of who contributes capital investments for the land and structure, the shelter does need to be operated under one organization or government."
The City of New Smyrna Beach is considering funding the study based on a per-resident contribution totaling $2,300, according to the city.
The entire cost of the study is not to exceed $50,000, Mr. McKitrick said.