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County Orders Armed Security at Palm Coast Library in Signal to Homeless, Patrons and Staff: ‘Safety Is Paramount’

| March 8, 2019

A segment of the path behind the library today. The clean-up begins Monday. (© FlaglerLive)

A segment of the path behind the library today. The clean-up begins Monday.
(© FlaglerLive)

Flagler County Interim Administrator Jerry Cameron has ordered the deployment of “round-the-clock” armed security at the Flagler County Public Library in Palm Coast in response to mounting pressure by the library director and a county commissioner to address safety concerns in the library, which has become common ground for a community of some three dozen homeless people or more who live in a camp in the woods west of the library.

The county will have one armed guard from its current security contractor, Allied Universal Security Services, which provides security guards at the Government Services Building and at Sally’s Safe Haven, for example–the location in Bunnell where supervised parental visits with their children take place. A guard would be posted for all 62 hours a week that the library is open, Cameron said in an interview this afternoon.

“I feel the safety of county employees in that situation is paramount,” Cameron said of the 16-odd employees who work at the Palm Coast branch. He said the same concern applies to patrons. The guard will not have arresting powers, but can throw people out of the library if they violate the library’s code of conduct, and summon police when necessary. “Anyone in the library that violates the law, assaults people or does things contrary to the standards of decency will be trespassed,” Cameron said.

No staffer at the library has been assaulted, nor has there been criminal incidents, but Library Director Holly Albanese said that her staff have been intimidated, at times harassed and yelled at, her library furniture has been urinated on, her floors have been defecated on–beyond bathroom stalls–and there’s been various discoveries of syringes in and outside the library, along with other paraphernalia suggesting drug activity. Littering on library grounds has also been an issue, she said.

Library Director Holly Albanese today showing a series of pictures to illustrate how the homeless around the library have impacted her staff and patrons. Click on the image for larger view. (© FlaglerLive)

Library Director Holly Albanese today showing a series of pictures to illustrate how the homeless around the library have impacted her staff and patrons. Click on the image for larger view. (© FlaglerLive)

Albanese set up a projector in the library’s Doug Cisney room this morning and showed reporters a long series of photographs what she and her staff–and patrons–have been contending with. She’d shown the photographs to Cameron the previous day during a meeting, and at one point had showed them to Commissioner Joe Mullins, who stood next to her this morning, along with Flagler County Sheriff’s Cmdr. Gerald Ditolla, who’s in charge of the Palm Coast precinct’s policing and has frequent contact with the homeless in the library community. (“I’ve been back in the camp many times. They’re good people,” Ditolla said, making every effort not to demonize the homeless.)

The community, spread around a canal beyond the west end of the library and within sights of some homes in Palm Coast’s B-Section, has been drawing relentless attention in the past couple of weeks as a Palm Coast City Council member and the chairman of the County Commission have been discussing the issue, spurring the county administration to action. The county initially planned to vacate the woods of homeless and ship them to other counties and to a camp at the edge of Flagler. That plan quickly collapsed as it was roundly condemned. But the controversy only heightened attention on the homeless issue.

Albanese seized on the occasion to show reporters that while the homeless have been getting plenty of attention, the effects of the homeless on the library, its patrons and staff have been getting much less so. But those effects, she says, have been severe–to the point that some of her staff members were very distraught when the county reversed its decision to clean out the camp of homeless people.

Albanese supports a plan that would eventually move the homeless out of the camp. That plan doesn’t exist for the moment. She said that absent that plan, she is not for exiling the homeless, nor is she for keeping them from the library. “That’s not my plan. I want to work with these people,” she said, pointing to the extent to which she has been attempting to work with them: she’s been researching various means by studying Ryan Dowd’s 2018 book on the subject (“The Librarian’s Guide to Homelessness: An empathy-driven approach to solving problems, preventing conflicts and serving everyone”) and even tried bringing Ryan to Flagler for a four-hour teach-in, though the plan was vetoed by the previous county administrator over costs.

Parts of the encampment, as with that arrangement and its occupants, who spoke with Commissioner Joe Mullins this morning,  is as well-tended as any encampment in a state park. But it's the exception. Click on the image for larger view. (© FlaglerLive)

Parts of the encampment, as with that arrangement and its occupants, who spoke with Commissioner Joe Mullins this morning, is as well-tended as any encampment in a state park. But it’s the exception. Click on the image for larger view. (© FlaglerLive)

Albanese prepared a detailed outline for an eventual white paper on homelessness and the library, exploring partnerships, “reducing homelessness through library engagement and access to services,” educating staff and the general public on the problem’s various facets, but also exploring barring the homeless from using the library and placing no-trespassing signs in the area behind the library. The white paper proposal was sidelined after the deputy county administrator’s departure.

Janet Nickels, the county’s human services program manager, is at the library twice a month to provide social services outreach to the homeless and anyone else. She is fully aware that even if and when the homeless are displaced from the camp, they will still frequently use the library: that’s what libraries have become across the country–sanctuaries of sorts for the downtrodden.

But, Albanese says, there must be safeguards, her staff must feel safe, and her patrons must still feel welcome. Some do not anymore, she says, citing a significant decline in attendance at children’s programs. “Many parents are stating they will not come here anymore because of the homeless,” she said.

Asked point-blank about the camp staying where it is as long as the county hasn’t figured out a better solution, Albanese said: “I’m OK with it as long as we have the security.”

Mullins this morning was speaking about spending his own money to contract with sheriff’s deputies to provide security at the library, what would have cost $40 an hour, or $2,480 a week. A conversation with Cameron persuaded him otherwise: Cameron did not give him legal advice, the interim administrator said, but advised him against going down that route, which creates legal difficulties. Mullins considered giving money to the Friends of the Library and having them hire security, though the Friends are barely back from the dead as an organization and are trying to get back on their feet: they would not likely be keen on taking on security responsibilities for the library.

A sight unnerving to staffers, by a library window. (Flagler County)

A sight unnerving to staffers, by a library window. (Flagler County)

This morning Mullins, who alerted reporters to the news conference he called at the library, described conditions in terms even more dire than Albanese–and in some cases in quite exaggerated terms, as when he described homeless people “coming in there with needles sticking out of their arms.” To date, that has not been the case. But three library chairs, each valued at $800, have been put out of commission by urine, Albanese said, and while it’s entirely possible that the urine could have been from anyone with a bladder problem, she said her staff have detected the problem after homeless individuals have gotten up from chairs.

“All that I care about is we create safety right now,” Mullins said.

Before the Great Recession, Albanese said, the library had security for 40 hours a week. But it was the first item she cut out of her budget when cuts were required. It was never restored. Cameron today said that on March 18 he will likely ask the County Commission for an appropriation for Albanese’s budget to cover security. It’s not yet clear where that money will come from. “I’ll probably request funding authorization to go beyond my authority to provide security at that location until a solution can be found,” Cameron said, specifying “an open-ended security guard at the library until we can resolve the issue.” Albanese’s budget, he said, “may get augmented on the 18th to cover it.”

Mullins, Albanese and Ditolla spoke as another county commissioner, Dave Sullivan, sat listening. He did not speak. Sullivan sits on the library board and tends to make news from his seat on the commission rather than beyond it (as he has on several occasions in recent weeks regarding other crises on the county’s agenda, from Bing’s Landing to the Sheriff’s Operations Center to Plantation Bay.)

The sort of paraphernalia library staff has been picking up on its grounds. Click on the image for larger view. (Flagler County)

The sort of paraphernalia library staff has been picking up on its grounds. Click on the image for larger view. (Flagler County)

Mullins has a more insurgent style, and he’s using it to pressure the commission or the administration into action, even though–like Palm Coast Councilman Jack Howell–he doesn’t have a clear plan on how to proceed beyond looking for a plan, and saying something must be done: “These guys are human beings, we need to find a solution that’s a win-win for everybody,” Mullins said today.

Meanwhile, now that the county has walked back its plan to expel the homeless from the library property, it will begin cleaning up the acreage used by the homeless Monday, Facilities Director Heidi Petito said. A county crew along with a crew of inmates from the Flagler County jail will be conducting the clean-up starting at 8 a.m. Any garbage will be cleared. Any unattended property will be catalogued and stored, likely at the library, for an undetermined amount of time, so the property’s owner can claim it. Some of the homeless themselves will help in the process. “We’re really working with them because they kind of know the community,” Petito said.

A walk around the grounds behind the library today revealed a few tent encampments as well-tended as at a state park campsite, with a small group of homeless men and women sitting around a table, playing cards, chatting and greeting passers-by. But the majority of the loop around the canal was more abject, with tents surrounded by garbage, some of the tents themselves filled with trash, and with fifth-hand furniture, bicycles, shopping carts, mounds of aluminum cans and the occasional book strewn anywhere one looked. One book was “Entertaining With Regis & Kathie Lee.” Another, half-way inside a tent and halfway out, was a Bible. Aside from the cluster of men and women under the tent at the front end of the camp, the rest appeared devoid of people.

In the palm of her hand. Click on the image for larger view. (© FlaglerLive)

In the palm of her hand. Click on the image for larger view.
(© FlaglerLive)

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42 Responses for “County Orders Armed Security at Palm Coast Library in Signal to Homeless, Patrons and Staff: ‘Safety Is Paramount’”

  1. PCer says:

    Why not just make the Library a mini-station for the police department?

  2. Mark says:

    $800 for a chair? 800 tax dollars for a chair? That’s insane!

  3. red neck rickey says:

    I ain’t one to interject race into things, but I can GA-RUN-TEE yuh, if these folks was black or latin they woulda done had the swat team up there clear-in em out on day one! All this “they are good people” from the police is bull dooty! I’m sorry the facts is the facts. Even the people who don’t want them there are some how able to hold their tongue and miss the facts. I lived in flagler county a long time I know what I see. Yal really need to talk about what being truly homeless is, not somebody that don’t want help or like structure. Placating these people. Dang trailer park project without trailers smack dead in Palm Coast with needles and poop, ain’t that something. I promise if they’re was blacks there, this compassion and politically correct confusion stuff would be out the window, sad but true. Black kids in Burnnell make a rap video, county done changed a law, white people litter’n, poopin and shoot’in public and the authorities are confused! Boyyy the world we live in.,

  4. The original woody says:

    So there pissing on the chairs,what’s the guard going to do make a citizens arrest?You can’t put them in jail so I have read in earlier articles.ship’em out and retake the area instead of using tax payer’s money to clean up the area time and time again plus a 24 hour guard.Ridiculous.

  5. Shark says:

    Just what we need, another sheriff deputy sitting around doing nothing!!!!

  6. Concerned says:

    My children use that library to study and last week my son noticed a homeless man urinating between the bookshelves. I asked him to report it and he said no because they don’t do anything about it. I am happy to hear they will have security. We will let our kids return to the library now.

  7. Willy Boy says:

    No criminal incidents? Destroying $800 chairs, defecating on floors, syringe litter, dog bites – just accidents? Thank you Flagler County for being such good stewards of our tax dollars. “Good People” – no just nasty vagrants.

  8. Ronald says:

    One of” these folks” was black.
    A while back, I gave him some clean clothing. He passed on about two weeks ago.
    Presently there are black folks in this homeless group.

  9. Flatsflyer says:

    $40. And hour for a Dickens Tracy, rent a Cop? Bet the guard isn’t making $15 per hour. This really demonstrates the truth about outsourcing. Stanley saves us money by using the same outfit to provide security at other government facilities. Next step is having this company directing traffic at church services on Sunday mornings.

    I think it would be wise to dig a little deeper and see who owns this company, who is on their payroll and anyone who benefits from using these types of services. I smell corruption, bribes and a whole lot of bullshit.

  10. robjr says:

    @red neck rickey
    They’d be arrested with some ridiculous bail.

    And I don’t believe your neck is red

  11. Tommy Turmoil says:

    Why pay for Armed Security Guard, that has NO Arrest Authority ?
    Unarmed cost less.
    Arm him with Pepper Spray, Lysol, and Fabreez

  12. Not me says:

    I will never bring my children there again. Some homeless guy was by the door and commented that my son was very cute as we walked by. Creepy. I don’t want my children exposed to that. Never again.

  13. doglover says:

    Clean them OUT!!!!!!!

  14. flagler1 says:

    How about you must have a library card to use the library.

  15. Ann says:

    Really is this a joke? They are breaking the laws, anyone else would be arrested drugs, defecating and urinating all over the library and now we have hired an armed guard? We are the TAXPAYERS, who is paying for this?? The City allowed this situation to get out of control I have been emailing the Mayor for over a year about this.
    Let’s keep paying their way and letting them stay and we have a City full of homeless, this is the goal??? Who do you think is going to want to live around this??

  16. atilla says:

    What a bunch of bullcrap. Now the taxpayers have to pay eto protect the taxpayer from these worthless bums. GET rid of them. These politicians avoid the issue because they’re spineless and hide under the rock they keep handy.A little south of here one was arrested for raping small girls. Grow some guts and rid the city and pass a code that they;re NOT ALLOWED!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  17. beachcomberT says:

    I don’t know the landscape of the Palm coast Library, but Flagler officials might take a look at Daytona’s Safe Zone lot south of Embry-Riddle, which provided temporary camping in the woods for more than a year. Portable toilets, a water tap and trash barrels helped keep the site somewhat clean. If the Flagler Jail allows off-property work details, maybe some of the inmates could help with clean-up, Aren’t there any churches within a mile or two willing to get involved?

  18. Concerned Citizen says:

    Why waste money on an outside security service? Armed guards with no arrest powers are useless.

    The Library is a county owned and ran asset. If there is really a concern with security then station a deputy there. The Sheriff’s Office is responsible for providing security at other county locations like the court house. The library should be no different.

    Once again our County Administrators are throwing our money around on senseless projects. When will it stop?

  19. Compassionate says:

    We have plenty vacant store fronts around. You mean to tell me you can’t make them a homeless shelter? Get one of the worthless commissioners to contact salvation army and get it started. Volunteers can help with food and housing. It takes a community to fix this not just a few. Stop complaining and be proactive.

  20. capt says:

    That picture alone speaks volumes about why people want the homeless removed. IF these people NO humans would pick up their trash, maybe other people would assist them. Yes there needs to be some enforcement and if it starts at the trash, well let it take effect. . IF you litter and you don;t pick it up, well a little jail time could help. But of course a homeless person would enjoy this, a free meal, a shower, a nice place to sleep and bathroom facilities. A no WIN. What a BIG no HUGE freaking problem.

  21. Alphonse Abonte says:

    So, an armed guard, at the cost to the taxpayers, to protect people at the library. Not a problem, but talk about putting an armed guard at the schools to protect against ARMED ASSAILANTS, , everybody goes CRAZY! Think we have priorities screwed up? Just saying.

  22. Mary Fusco says:

    @ Compassionate. I guess that you will be one of the first to volunteer to clean up their shit. BE PROACTIVE. LMAO

  23. Concerned Citizen says:

    We should all call/email our BOCC.

    A security guard has no arrest powers. What will he do when confronted by 1 or more individuals? At least a Deputy carries a little more weight and a lot of times people think twice about starting anything.

    Yet again another case of our illustrious BOCC and county Administratior friviously wasting OUR money. All while placating law breaking citizens.

    We will have elections rolling around before to long. Remember this when posts are due.

  24. Me says:

    With home computers now, does the library have that many frequent it these days? So, much is done on line these days, hasn’t that lowered the number of patrons to the library?
    It is amazing that the county officials and city officials are clueless on what to do. Have the homeless clean up after themselves and take pride in their make shift camp ground.
    As read in this article the homeless have yet to attack anyone at the library or committed any crimes. So, why are the homeless being treated as though they are criminals, because they are less fortunate then most?

  25. The original woody says:

    The picture resembles some the rentals I have seen here in Palm Coast.

  26. Born and Raised here says:

    Perhaps the County could hire them and let them take care of the library grounds. In return place a couple Portatoliets on there campsite.

  27. Augusta Native says:

    I hope you folks don’t play into Mullins B.S paying for something out of his pocket. Someone should call his bluff and have him pay for it. Because he really is a broke man that pretends to have money. He needs to pay his past due balances to his contractors in Augusta GA before he tries to look like a good guy paying for a private service for a county issue he can’t handle. Good ol Joe always in the middle of issues that show up in the paper. Like the rest he says drain the swamp but he is part of it.
    He should just ask his buddy Ron Cross his commissioner constituent in Augusta what to do. Cross tells him everything else to do in FL

  28. hawkeye says:

    this is a good idea , one of these days one of these pigs will mess with the wrong person and get an ass whooping , so ,its better to have security around rather than someone like me taking care of business if they accost me ,my wife or my kids/grandkids and p.s, red neck rickey is a phony,I am a redneck and so are all of my friends and none of us would make an idiotic statement like he did.

  29. Agkistrodon says:

    Why does anyone need security, from what many are saying these people are “regular” people…………”Regular” people do Not urinate in a library. “Regular” people do NOT poop on chairs, unless they are too Regular….”regular” people do NOT require security guards to prevent them from doing “shady” things…………Yeah….

  30. Mm says:

    Bunch of BS!They should be thrown in jail and made to clean u there own mess!If anyone trashes public propylike that they would be fined!Bottom line !Im a life long citizen of this county and u r letting them get away with this and catering to them!They should be made to clean up there disgusting mess or ran out of this county!

  31. It is the says:

    Come watch the homeless gather at the south east corner of palm coast parkway and belle terre. They have an awesome fun looking time. They drink and party and hang out all day. Then run to the corner to receive money from idiots at the traffic light. They even have people with cars come park and drink with them while their dogs run around and play…looks like a great life. Now they’ve conned the city/county into providing security and cleaning up their “camp” They have bragged to me personally that they receive over $100 a day begging. They need to be allowed to stay in their camp as long as they pay $100 rent per person and $50 a day for cleanup per person and $25 a day for clean up per person. They must also follow all the same codes I must follow at my actual home or receive code violation fines for not following the rules. .

  32. anonymous says:

    The county already uses Allied Universal for the government buildings and they have issues with coverage all the time. I know a few personally and they can’t stand the company stating mismanagement and lack thereof. They only stay as they like the posittions and people they work with. They’re all good people but mainly elderly, how are they going to handle a situation of confrontation when it happens? They may carry a gun but have no arrest powers and no other authority really and would need to call the Sheriff’s Office in the event of an incident. This is a waste of money to the community and not even a band aid to say the least…

  33. flugtag says:

    i like taking my brother to the library but there were people taking showers and brushing their teeth in the restroom and just hanging out in there like they lived there. we havent gone in over a year so maybe well go back if its no longer a homeless camp.

  34. Dave says:

    @ Not me, if you think everyone is creepy who gives you a compliment, I’d hate to see your reaction If they were to actually say or do something creepy. Sounds like you need to learn some manners.
    Also if a Rent-a-Cop makes everyone feel safer from the danger that doesnt really exist than so be it but I think this encampment would be a good place for school field trips and church activities. Please call or write your local church and ask what they can do to help the homeless at the library, maybe they can bring them food and clothes.

  35. marlee says:

    I can’t stop thinking about this:

    “that’s what libraries have become across the country–sanctuaries of sorts for the downtrodden.”

    Sooooo, send a 24 hr cop in…that will solve the problem.

  36. Nan Wals says:

    @me, where’s the treatment like a criminal? Looks to me as if they are seeking a way to help with the situation, help them. However, if you’re okay with urination on the chairs, between the book racks, then you invite them over. My child won’t be there until the matter is cleaned up and the disposed needles are gone.

  37. Bill says:

    This camp has been around for years. Procrastination has its consequences. It would be a shame if the woods caught in fire.

  38. John Dewitt says:

    Just take a look at the property appraisers web site and you will see the entire parcel where these people are encamped belongs to to county. So the county has the authority to trespass them. They have created a public health hazard with all the littering. Not to mention the urinating and deficating in the library without using the toilets. Just wait until one of them starts a fire and destroys a bunch of nearby hones in the process. The County knows they are there and breaking the law. Put them in jail, get them interacting with social workers, get them in touch with family members, and stop this nonsense.

  39. mark101 says:

    SO what we have here is a basically a mall cop hoping to keep the piece with a bunch of homeless that could careless. It would be more beneficial to have a Barney Fife walking around with the authority to make someone do something, plus he will still have that one bullet in his pocket if the need comes to use force, just saying :)

  40. really says:

    Why were the two homeless who threatened an Employee with a machete and verbally not arrested and thrown in jail. If anyone else did that game over in cuffs. They need to be removed from the premises pronto before the situation escalates. Get rid of them NOW

  41. Dave says:

    Really, the reason no one was arrested of a threat with a machete is because that story is a lie, it never happened, it is just an attempt to demonize the homeless and put fear in the locals.

  42. ASF says:

    Compassion for the homeless does not necessarily entail creating health and safety hazards for the rest of the community. There must be some way to attain a balance that is both humane and fair. That excuses judgements being made by BOTH of the sides in the debate. Moral judgements and “right fighting” don’t solve anything.

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