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Push For Swift Homeless ‘Solutions’ Clashes With Individual, On-the-Ground Realities

| March 13, 2019

James Bellino, the pastor at Bunnell’s Church on the Rock, speaking to the Public Safety Coordinating Council this morning, with the council's chairman, Joe Mullins, to the right. (© FlaglerLive)

James Bellino, the pastor at Bunnell’s Church on the Rock, speaking to the Public Safety Coordinating Council this morning, with the council’s chairman, Joe Mullins, to the right. Bellino’s on-the-ground pragmatism clashed with Mullins’s push for a swift solution.
(© FlaglerLive)

At the end of this morning’s Public Safety Coordinating Council meeting on Flagler and Palm Coast’s homeless issues, James Bellino, the pastor at Bunnell’s Church on the Rock and a man regularly and intimately involved in caring for the homeless, spoke as if to shake some of the people around the council’s table out of their well-meaning illusions–not least of them the council’s chairman and county commissioner, Joe Mullins.

“I’ve been doing this for two years, I’ve had homeless every week in my facility, showering, bathing, feeding. Point-in-time studies come and go, nobody comes to see me. Nobody talks to me,” he said of the annual surveys that count the homeless in every community in the country. “I read in the Palm Coast Observer that there’s a meeting that happens with Mr. Alvin and Chief Foster about a plan of going to Church on the Rock and partnering and dealing with this situation but it violated the city ordinances. Nobody ever talked to me.” He’s never met Alvin Jackson, the relatively new Bunnell city manager, who was one of the people around the table.

“There’s no quick fix, there’s no easy pill to swallow that’s going to make this go away. But I have a facility that I’m willing to open up to use. If there’s people that need to come in to do their job, I have a facility. You have to partner with the people that are already on the ground doing this that have a heart doing it, instead of trying to recreate the wheel.” He added, “We want to transform a community one life at a time. We’re not going to have a task force that’s going to figure this all out in 10 days. Took 10 years to get here. But we have to take concrete steps.”

Moments earlier, the council, a collection of judicial, law enforcement, social service, county and now municipal government representatives, had voted to assign the existing homeless and housing task force of Flagler County the job of coming up with recommendations within 30 days. Sheriff Rick Staly and Family Life Center Executive Director Trish Giaccone had motioned and seconded to go that route, but largely to keep Mullins and Palm Coast City Council member Jack Howell from pressing with a different goal: creating a task force of their own.

Until today’s meeting, neither man had been aware of the existence of the already-constituted task force, of which Giaccone has been a long-time member. That’s one of the problems with the current and rather sudden revival in county and city interest in homeless issues: they’re coming to the matter like a cavalry, armed and primed for solutions when local groups, both governmental (through the county) and non-governmental have been at it for years, but as Bellino and Giaccone pointed out, getting little attention for it.

Mullins opened today’s meeting saying he wanted to “talk solutions.” He laid out a three-pronged approach: new laws on the books to give law enforcement stronger tools to counter panhandling and camping in undesignated sites, coordination with an agency that could determine individual needs and ailments, and a “program to pick them up,” deliver them to an agency or “give them the option of a place to go,” what he described as “a location that’s civilized and clean and not have disease running around.”

It was nothing new, nothing that hasn’t been tried, that keeps being tried, and that’s often done successfully: Jeff White, the Volusia-Flagler Coalition for the Homeless representative who sits on the council, spoke of the group’s success in securing housing for what totaled 428 households in 18 months. When Mullins asked for a motion and Howell motioned to create a task force, Giaccone intervened.

flagler public safety coordinating council

The council this morning struggled to get to a quorum. (© FlaglerLive)

“I was under the impression that Flagler County already has a task force,” Giaccone said, “so I don’t know that we need to recreate that but rather ask the members who are interested in participating in a task force that has been up and running for several years, that way we’re not recreating the wheel, we’re engaging in conversation with multiple stakeholders.”

Howell didn’t like the monthly meeting schedule. He wants more frequent meetings. Mullins was fine with the existing task force picking up the lead, but he wanted his three goals to be the focus of its attention.

“I would offer that we and I think that this is a conversation we need to have more consistently, and regularly, but I think that before we say that we want the county to look at it, that we have an opportunity for the task force to sit down and make some recommendations to this committee, because they’re working with folks who are currently homeless and getting feedback from those that are in our community, versus us as a body saying this is what we want to see happen. Let’s invite our homeless folks into the dialogue, let’s invite the current service providers into the dialogue.”

“That’s what we’re doing here if we’re looking at the three components we’re addressing the issue,” Mullins said, “and if we make the issue more complicated than we are, then it is. We’re never going to get anything resolved. It’s real simple, we’ve got to have tools, we’ve got to have the correct services there for them, and then we’ve got to have a place to take them.”

“I’m going to respectfully disagree with you because I’ve worked with the homeless for 12 years and I can tell you that just picking them up and bringing them–where? We don’t have that in place,” Giaccone said.

“That’s the third component, having a place to take them to,” Mullins said. “The other option is you keep doing what you’re doing that’s not working.”

“I just feel like we’re putting the apple before the cart, and it really needs to be the folks that are currently engaging in the conversation, to say now that we’ve got the county’s ear and that we are aware of what’s happening, let’s move forward with the current group and say these are the things we would like to focus on. I just don’t think it’s prudent for us as a committee to kind of swoop in and say this is what we want. Let’s talk to the people who are doing this day in and day out for the last several years and say: what do you want to see happening, and how do we work together.”

Giaccone’s approach won the day. But it was only one of a few examples of discussion at cross-purposes at today’s meeting. Mullins and Howell were submitting theoretical plans to “get something done,” but the officials around the table were bringing concrete, “boots-on-the-ground” perspectives (to use the sheriff’s phrase) that did not mesh with the Mullins-Howell approach.

Mullins repeatedly spoke of giving law enforcement new tools–new ordinances–to enforce regulations. He cited the relatively recent and draconian ordinance St. Augustine passed against panhandling and homelessness, later copied by Daytona Beach and Bunnell. It seemed to escape all council participants that Bunnell had passed that ordinance, and Jackson did not remind them, though he might have noted that Bunnell’s harsher rules are at least in part likely to have caused Palm Coast’s homeless population to swell.

But County Attorney Al Hadeed spoke at length of the fact that homelessness is not a crime, and that harsh ordinances or enforcement “are not beneficial unless law enforcement has a way to channel these people into services so they don’t continue to create those problems.”

“It is a very treacherous path to fashion a statute or a rule to address homelessness or panhandling in particular,” Hadeed said, giving the St. Augustine ordinance as an example. “It hasn’t been tested judicially, and I would expect that it would be tested judicially.”

Staly is not interested in turning deputies into a homeless police force, or the county jail into a default shelter. He said “no one cookie-cutter solution will fit the homeless. Every homeless person is homeless for a different reason.” He cited a few of the reasons (those who are down on their luck, those who are homeless as a lifestyle, those who suffer from addiction or mental health issues). “Whatever is done, if we’re going to do it right in this county, which is the only way I’m going to participate in it, is it needs to be comprehensive,” Staly said. He and Jackson, the Bunnell manager, proposed assigning one county government point person to the task, though one of the people in attendance, Janet Nickels, essentially fulfills that role as Flagler’s human services program manager–and spoke to the council to that effect.

Nickels’s team placed eight people in homes in the past two months, including a woman who had been homeless for five and a half years. “It took her five and a half years to kind of be ready to do that,” Nickels said. “It truly is one person at a time.”

Again, it was an indication that the people and the organizations are in place, though what has lacked so far is resources and the political will, or climate, to make homelessness a priority.

To that extent, Howell and Mullins have been successful: “I commend Joe for at least having the conversation,” Giaccone said, “because the conversation hasn’t been happening.” The sheriff agreed, saying the issue had been “neglected for many, many years. Now there’s a focus.” Giaccone also supports Mulliuns’s push to ensure that Flagler County gets its fair share of homeless-assistance dollars. At the moment, Flagler gets only 18 percent of the grants channeled through the Volusia-Flagler Homeless Coalition, and a chunk of that Flagler portion has just been awarded to a Catholic charity in St. Augustine.

Homelessness rocketed back to public and government attention last month since the growing population of the homeless around the public library in Palm Coast triggered a controversial response from the county, when the county attempted to clear out the zone and ship the homeless elsewhere, including to a derelict county camp at the far end of Flagler.

Nevertheless, even Mullins’s parameters have already ruled out large-scale solutions. He says there is no money for such a thing as a permanent shelter. Rather, the county and other agencies should seek out grants and federal funding, presumably to be spent on programs that find homes and services for the homeless. But that’s only an amplification of existing efforts, what Mullins has derisively told Giaccone “isn’t working.”

The end of the meeting featured several homeless individuals addressing the council in their full humanity–one of them broke down and struggled to get the words out about how she became homeless after her husband of 37 years “decided he didn’t love me anymore because I had three strokes,” leaving her to contend with $91 a month in social assistance. “It’s not my fault I have to live in my car,” she said through sobs. “I didn’t do anything wrong. I want a place to live. Please help me.”

“You’re all saying the same thing over and over,” another homeless person told the council. “I don’t think you’ll ever make a change. Thank you. For nothing.”

The meeting had not had an auspicious beginning this morning. There were four homeless people among the 25 people in attendance, but no quorum around the council’s table–not for 18 minutes, anyway. The few members who’d showed up, including the sheriff, a judge, the public defender, the state attorney’s delegate and a few others, sat and waited, and listened to Mullins–chairing only his second meeting–stunningly admonish them: “Guys, get used to this as being a monthly meeting,” he said. While it’s true that the council had failed to meet for most of the past year, Mullins was clearly not yet aware that the council’s chairmanship is more statutory than commanding–least of all to the independently elected and judicial officials around the table.

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14 Responses for “Push For Swift Homeless ‘Solutions’ Clashes With Individual, On-the-Ground Realities”

  1. Mark says:

    Sounds like a complete breakdown of coordination and communication as usual. Probably driven by the various multitude of rules or regulations that keep people from picking up the phone and calling another agency or church. Obviously local authorities need to trim these BS rules and regulations and give up some of their empires to help grease the possible solutions to the problems, not problem.

  2. Mary Fusco says:

    Sometimes, I just do not understand the reasoning behind things. I have lived in PC for 20 years. For 20 years we have been told what we can and cannot do. We have conformed. For example, Joe the Plumber who goes to work every day, pays taxes, which in turn pay our elected officials and others, cannot possibly park his work truck in his driveway overnight without being fined. How does that make any sense? If I pitch a tent in my side yard for visiting family, I would be slapped with a yellow sticker. Yet, my property is bought and paid for. The powers that be in this City have NO problem telling myself and my neighbors what we can and cannot do, yet telling these pigs to clean up their shit and move on is a monumental task. It is unreal. I say offer help to those who want it and for the rest, give them 48 hours to vacate. That is a disgusting filthy situation.

  3. Dave says:

    The last thing we need to do is give this sheriff more power for anything. All that will do is create more homelessness problems and criminalize our homeless people. What is St. Thomas Episcopal Church doing to help with the homeless at the Library? They are the closest to the problem and can offer many services to the homeless.

  4. atilla says:

    Looks like Bunnell wants them. Bring the buses to the library and load um up. Head um south.

  5. County employee says:

    Just goes to show how much Mullins doesn’t know about Flagler County. He buys his way into an election in a place he has zero history and then he charges forward like a bucking bronco without knowing whats been done in the past. He should just get the hell out and let the locals fix things.

  6. Stretchem says:

    Sooooooo, they all agreed to talk about it more?

  7. Algernon says:

    Commissioner Mullins is going to be interesting to watch. He seemed to buy his way into office and he likes to flex his political muscles. He may need time like any new official to learn about the people and processes of Flagler County before being too vocal and having to take a few steps back to learn the facts. I’ve heard him say he went to a meeting with President Trump and likes the way he takes charge and gets thing done.

    I don’t know if he learned to shoot from the hip from the old “Ready, Fire, Aim” school of marksmanship. I heard concerns during the fall campaign that there was a little worry about him being in a position of authority around county budgets, spending, and money. I’m not trying to spread nasty rumors, but this was said to me by a few responsible people I’ve known for some years.

    Let’s hope the rumors are wrong and he will turn into a good commissioner.

  8. Dynamite says:

    NOPE!!! No monthly meetings!!! How much bigger is that camp at the library going to swell to within that timeframe??? No wonder it takes years!!!

  9. Tew says:

    I realize there isn’t an easy answer to this problem but I believe we aren’t solving the problem by allowing the homeless to move back to a camp behind the Flagler County Library. If these folks can pan handle, they can work. They aren’t disabled if they can stand around asking for money. It seems the County is enabling these folks to keep doing what they want. It’s one thing to help people but these folks don’t seem grateful. Abusing the library and the area around it isn’t helping anyone. If the Boy Scouts can use the camp at the far end of Flagler, why isn’t it good enough for the homeless? That idea isn’t good enough because they wouldn’t be able to pan handle! Stop the bs Flagler County, and do something concrete.

  10. Pamela I Andrews says:

    Where do I begin…
    As someone who volunteered to do work with and for the homeless for many years, and worked tirelessly with Carla Traister and Betth Hutto… Who started the FCFAC, Flagler County Cold Weather Shelter…( The Sheltering Tree) Janet Nickels also served on the board there with us…
    We had solutions, they still work those solutions, with “One Man at a Time”. And have assisted many to get housing, and other needed services.

    Yet there has always been a base of denyers of a problem, and the county did not even help to transport the homeless in cold weather, after meeting with Frank (at the time head of transportation) more than once… Now some are all for bussing them to where they are stranded in the country???

    We even made effort to have an IDignity event here and they say they have no money for it. So Volusia covers for us, and if they can get to Deland or Daytona for an event they pay for them to get an ID.
    You have to have ID for everything, job, housing, utilities etc. The Sheltering Tree has paid for what they can, but rely on grants and donations to do what they do.

    Trish, at The Family Life Center, also has solutions, and doing what she can. But can only do so much.

    I am not surprised it has finally become a forethought…
    As the last count I participated in, the homeless unaccompanied youth in Palm Coast was overwhelming. So out of control a student from Stetson who worked on my team, did a great Power Point on it.
    The FIT ( Families in Transition ), homeless students in Flagler County numbers, most think untrue…

    The struggles of the homeless enormous, most mentally unstable…not criminal and should never be treated as such.

    Our little Flagler County has really only had a million meetings on it…
    I personally did 5 PIT ( Point in Time ) counts for the State on the promise that the data collected would bring money to assist, and no real money or solutions never has came to fruition, from any of them, including the VFCCH ( Volusia/Flagler County Coalition of the Homeless ), meeting that too were nothing but gripe sessions with board and committee members and after everyone I asked why there was never an audit on the money, out of total frustration of it always the same nothing, and no matter the data, nothing…

    I have 6 journals filled with notes and minutes, 3 of which were written while a VISTA for The Volusia/ Flagler Homeless Coalition, a short time of that served with Jeff White who attended this am meeting, but majority with Lisa Hamilton. Attending the first year of meeting with the Task Force that met at the hospital, and Task Force with Melissa Estrom, nothing ever came of all those hours.

    Taskforce’ is a waste of time here and unless something changes with the way it is going, it will only get worse.

    The guy at The Rock is right, nobody talks…

  11. Percy's mother says:

    NOW . . .

    Here’s my #1 question . . .

    This homeless problem behind the public library didn’t just happen.

    Holly Albanese has been director of the public library on PC Parkway for how long? YEARS.

    Holly JUST called in the press. WHY NOW?????

    Well, Holly wants Craig Coffey’s old job. She was passed over for interim county manager after submitting her resume for that position. What better way to call attention to herself NOW than to call in the press about a long-term homeless situation at the public library?

    Anyone asked this question?? She certainly now has the attention and publicity she needs to come to the forefront of a newly elected Flagler County Commissioner (Joe Mullins) as well as the PC Observer and the other county commissioners, WNZF and others. She was largely an unknown before.

    She’s gone from being largely unqualified and unknown in the scheme of the county hierarchy to being in the forefront of attention. What better way to garner attention to rally her cause (getting the county manager’s job) than by calling in the press when this homeless situation behind the public library has been going on for YEARS. Why didn’t she call in the press 2 years ago? 3 years ago?

    Anyone else recognized this scenario? She doesn’t care about the homeless situation at the public library, she wants Craig Coffey’s old job.

  12. Michael Cocchiola says:

    Remember one thing… any “solution” must recognize the inviolate constitutional rights of the homeless. To do so will result in legal challenges. Daytona Beach and St. Augustine ordinances are subject to legal challenge and when they are challenged in court these cities will lose.

    There is no easy fix. The issues of homelessness are varied and complex. It will take time, commitment and money to enable actions that will help the homeless get back on their feet. We need to accept the realities and work toward real solutions.

  13. palmcoaster says:

    I said it before and I am convinced of it. We are all dealing and see the homeless their panhandling etc all around us mainly in Palm Coast creating the numerous problems that we all know. We evict them from one location near public bathrooms and they pop up elsewhere… Lets build a campsite in some of the public parcels that city or county owns off Rte 1. A place were they can pitch a tent or safely park their cars the ones that live on them with his and hers bathroom with showers were they can have some human deserved hygiene with a large pavilion were they can seat protected from extreme cold or heat with solar energy generated phone chargers and or computer hook ups . All the structures with solar roofs that we should ask to be donated by FPL ( given their investors making themselves rich with us all in FL). A campsite were as designated location by the homeless can be taken (as Staly said in the community center Coffee with a Cop meeting) while found violating the city or county codes of ordinances. That will be the designated temporary or permanent homeless safe place for them to reside with some dignity were they will be responsible to keep up provided with garbage collection and law enforcement patrolling as the rest of the city. Will cost us less and will be humanly acceptable than what them and us endure now. How much of the taxes we pay now could cost to designate a public owned vacant parcel, a backhoe , volunteers to build a decent campsite for them as a temporary solution.
    I see those solar islands in Town Center that no one uses, now the county luscious cottages built in Princess Place with our money…then what about a campsite for the homeless. We sure pay enough taxes to fund it. That campsite will be the place were the many compassionate volunteers can go and service them in one place and should have a cold weather shelter that now the Sheltering Tree is paying rent for. This volunteers organization just raised $12,000 to provide services to the homeless and the many churches that help them as well will have their one place for rehab and recover them into society at least the ones to be rehabilitated. So please here stop bashing our religious organizations from our comfortable homes regarding the homeless because humanly and financially they do a lot for them versus the government using our taxes to help foreigners first in these trillionaire useless wars etc. The problem is that millions of our taxes get wasted in useless blunders, benefiting the already wealthy or defending some to be free democracy in Tequerary while ignoring and defending our own first. Lets resolve this problem finally and stop the petty idiocy of nonsense comments throwing the homeless, their compassionate volunteers and religious organizations that help them under the bus. Lets provide them with the necessary first step on this ladder of recovery and give them some dignity to erase their resentment about the American Dream never materialized for them.

  14. Mjack says:

    Percy’s mom,

    Ms. Albanese stated in her cover letter for the interim position that she was not interested in the position permanently so, as usual, your post holds no water. Your personal vendetta is tiresome and not becoming.

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