Full-time armed security began at the Flagler County Public Library in Palm Coast on Tuesday as the county stepped up its work, cleaning up the homeless camp at the west end of the library property, and a new video security and access-control system is on the way for the library. There’s been only minor issues with homeless individuals during the clean-up’s first week, but more serious hygiene issues were uncovered.
“We’ve cleaned up I think 80-something cubic yards of trash,” Interim County Administrator Jerry Cameron said today, “then we had a little over 1,100 square-foot of area that was heavily contaminated with human waste. We had to call DEP and get some guidance on that, and got a special container just for that.” DEP is the state Department of Environmental Protection. “They’re cleaning that up this morning. That’s a real concern because that’s exactly the sort of thing that would wipe our armies with dysentery and cholera.”
Some three dozen or more homeless people were living in an encampment sprawled around a canal a few hundred yards from the library. Their presence was generating complaints from neighbors in the south end of Palm Coast’s B-Section, whose homes line the same canal. It was generating safety concerns from library staff and the library director. And it had provoked the most serious series of discussions about seeking solutions among county, city and law enforcement officials in memory. Previous discussions date back six and seven years, and had focused on Bunnell, where the homeless had tended to congregate because of a church’s welcoming ministry at the time. Bunnell has more recently taken a harsh line against panhandling and the homeless, passing the county’s strictest anti-panhandling ordinance.
Long-term solutions remain elusive. Short-term solutions include what amounts to the restoration of full-time security at the library, a presence the library used to depend on before the Great Recession, but that had to be eliminated because of budget cuts. It’s not clear how the county will finance the added security. On Monday, the County Commission is expected to discuss and likely approve the addition of a $35,000 security system at the library.
“The proposed system includes single door access control on the staff entrance exterior door,” a memo to commissioners about the new system reads, “standalone network video recorder with 24 cameras installed throughout the interior and exterior of the building, and licenses for connectivity to the centralized network video controller and access control systems. The system can be remotely monitored and controlled as needed.
The system will be paid for with the library’s own revenue from its passport fund, which generated over $100,000 in the past year and will stand at $214,000 after the expense for security.
There’s been only a handful of interactions between deputies and the homeless around the library this week. Tara Sanfilippo is a 27-year-old woman who lives at the camp behind the library. Deputies located a warrant out of Fairfax County, Va., for her arrest , for attempted identity fraud. She was found, arrested and booked Tuesday at the county jail, where she remains on no bond. The same day, according to a sheriff’s report, “Several homeless subjects had not moved from the area as instructed to do so yesterday. Commander Williams spoke to the few individuals and [they] agreed to leave the area until the county finishes their work.”
A sheriff’s report also sheds more light on what had been an alarming county release earlier this week about a 40-year-old homeless woman who had allegedly threatened a custodian. Holly Albanese, the library director, said a scrawl of the words “I will kill you,” found in a library bathroom stall, cannot be attributed to her, but likely was the 40-year-old woman’s doing. The release also made reference to a machete that was seen by library staff by the feet of the woman and her partner. Albanese said the homeless use machetes to cut through underbrush around their encampments.
The sheriff’s report paints a less threatening picture of what took place: Jennifer Brannigan and Christine Brannigan, custodians at the library, “They stated that on March 9, 2019 at approximately 8:12 AM, they were in the Doug Cisney Room, which is located in the rear of the library,” the report states. The custodians “stated that they were looking out the window and observed two males and a female standing outside of the Library and they appeared to be having a conversation. The male, whose identity is unknown at this time, who was wearing a grey long sleeved shirt, black pants, and a black hat, was observed taking a machete out of a black backpack and showing it to the other male, then set the machete on the ground between his legs.”
Cameron said the homeless at the encampment “have been as a whole cooperative and even help with some of the cleanup. They ran into a couple of people that were resistant, but they explained to them this absolutely had to be done, some of them grudgingly moved but the vast majority of them were cooperative.”
The clean-up is not an eviction: absent a better solution for the homeless, the county is not requiring the individuals to leave the property, though it will attempt to ensure more sanitary conditions in the future.
On Thursday, the county issued yet another release in what has become a series of releases on the homeless issue, some of them odder than others–as was the case Thursday, but only seemingly so. The release stressed the extent of homeless assistance efforts the county has been involved in over the years and at the moment, quoting Janet Nickels, the county’s point person on homeless issues. “We work with a wide variety of agencies that address various homeless issues such as housing, addiction, and family transitional housing,” Nickels was quoted as saying.“It is this team approach that is the most effective.” The release noted that the county had placed six people in housing in the past two months.
While much of the release summarized what Nickels had spoken of to the Public Safety Coordinating Council on Wednesday, and what has already been extensively reported, it read as an unusual counterpoint to County Commissioner Joe Mullins’s insistence that the county must do something about the homeless issue, and do more than it’s been doing. (A county official noted that the release had been in the works since February, and that much of its substance has been part of a campaign by the county to explain its role in homeless initiatives since then.)
Mullins wants immediate action. The release was written with emphasis on how slow and difficult progress on homeless issues can be, down to individual cases: “Over the years, the most successful way for us to operate has been one person at a time,” Nickels is quoted as saying, essentially contradicting the Mullins approach. “As slow as that is, not everyone is ready (to change) just because we want them to be.”
Mullins is pushing the county to develop new ordinances giving law enforcement and code enforcement stronger tools to deal with the homeless, while also looking for a permanent alternative to such things as the camp around the library. But Mullins has ruled out a permanent shelter. Cameron called Mullins’s approach “passionate.” But he said the county’s approach must take various issues in consideration.
“Legislation on homeless issue is very difficult, it’s difficult to draft it so it stands constitutional scrutiny,” Cameron said, “but once you’ve drafted it, it’s highly dependent on how you enforce it as to whether you have it effective or not.”
Mullins, Cameron said, is “freshly out of the private sector. You can do things faster there. His proposals will be reviewed by legal here,” and if his proposals are sound, the county will move forward with them, assuming the rest of the commission is supportive. “But again it’s very difficult to have a meaningful impact on this unless you have alternatives.” Those alternatives will be dependent on broad partnerships, Cameron said–the kind of partnerships his administration’s release was listing. Short of that, the county can make only “slight improvements, not broad improvements,” Cameron said. But Mullins “is coming up with ideas and we’re certainly going to explore them.”