There was a sunny headline atop a Flagler County government news release issued in mid-afternoon Tuesday: “Flagler County takes action to improve difficult situation of the homeless.”
The release explained how the county had issued a “notice to vacate” to the homeless people clustered in a makeshift camp behind the Flagler County Public Library off Palm Coast Parkway, offering up an alternative. In the release’s wording, “the county-owned campsite at Russell Landing, assistance getting there, and transportation to and from the west side park location and a central location in town.” The release states the arrangement would be temporary.
“The site at Russell Landing offers running water, electricity, toilets, a shower, and a sink,” the release stated, with bus runs daily at 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. and individual transportation available on a case by case basis.
The reality is as far from an “improvement” as calling Russell Landing a “park.” It is barely a campground.
Few people in Palm Coast or Flagler have heard of Russell Landing until now because it is hardly ever visited. It is as far west and south of barely driveable Flagler befiore you hit water. It is literally at the end of the road–at the very end of County Road 2007, if you’re interested in the murky waters of Haw Creek, and at the end of another, lesser and unnumbered road, if it’s the campground the county has in mind for the homeless.
Calling it a campground is a stretch, though it is occasionally used by boy scouts, according to one of two county maintenance men who were there this morning, repairing some electrical wiring by way of preparing the place for its eventual guests. The quick repairs suggest the wiring was subpar when the county decided to make it a homeless site.
The Russell Landing campground is actually a small shack roofed by corrugated iron, with a few cavities where doors and windows would normally be. No actual windows, no door. There’s nothing by way of amenities, including places to sit, aside from a bench outside the shack. There is electricity only in the shack, not elsewhere in the campground. (The electricity was off this morning, as the men rewired.) There are no lights anywhere in the campground, making it ideal, say, for stargazing, though it’s not likely the homeless will bring their telescopes.
“Running water” is a stretch, too: the water spurts out of the single sink in the shack at more of a halting pace, and only from the cold water faucet. The hot water faucet produced nothing. Same thing in the one available shower a foot and a half next to the sink, an unseemly space good enough for one slender person. The shower is powerful enough, as is the well-water’s sulfurous aroma. The hot-water faucet was not functioning this morning. The floor of the shower would strongly recommend shower sandals.
Campsite bathrooms are fabled ground for all sorts of interesting organisms, and the two stalls in the shack, undifferentiated by sex, are no exception, though it’s common for long-standing water in a toilet bowl to curdle into indescribable colors. The floor at the foot of the stalls, which can’t be flushed, is another story. There was some toilet paper in the dispensers, though no visible evidence of spare rolls.
The campground is certainly rustic, quiet, surrounded by greenery–if you’re there to rough it for a few days, with the necessary equipment and vehicles should it become necessary to leave. Visitors to the campground usually come so equipped. But it is as isolated as it gets. The county news release did not mention anything about Russell Landing’s distance from town. It is 16.5 miles from the intersection of State Road 100 and Belle Terre Parkway, 22 miles to the library. It is accessible through 2.3 miles of dirt road off of County Road 2006, the last 0.6 miles being more dirt, ruts, grass and small craters than anything that can be called a road.
And that portion was actually gated and locked today: it took a county worker to unlock the gate and allow access to the campground. The sign at the gate is not inviting. Though it includes the universal icon for campgrounds, it also states: “Authorized personnel only.” De-authorized from the library campsite, the homeless will presumably be authorized personnel at Russell landing. There’s no telling what the path would look like during downpours.
The isolation is complete: there is no cell reception to speak of, so if an individual falls ill or gets in trouble, there is no way to call out, and if that individual has no vehicle, there is no way out: there is only the wait for the next county bus at 10 a.m. The site’s location demonstrably does not improve the safety of its dwellers.
That’s what the county is calling “action that will improve the difficult living situation for the homeless.” The news release quotes the county’s facilities director saying that “We are making every accommodation we can think of to help our homeless.”
A visit to Russell Landing suggests that that may be true only if the homeless were into dabbling in a few weeks of Flagler County’s version of Outward Bound, whose logo would be a fitting welcome to the campground: “Always go with the choice that scares you the most, because that’s the one that is going to require the most from you.”
Note: an article on county and city officials’ reactions and explanations about the move on the homeless will follow later this afternoon.