The Sheltering Tree has ensured that Flagler County’s only cold-weather shelter will operate for its 12th year this winter, overcoming a decision by the Bunnell City Commission to shut it down. The commission Monday evening voted not to enforce its prohibition, but only in compliance with what it described as a “directive” from the U.S. Department of Justice, which is investigating the city’s zoning-based prohibition. The allowance is in effect for the duration of the investigation.
Meanwhile, Sheltering Tree officials and advocates are asking the city to work with the organization toward a compromise, and describing themselves committed to accommodate residents’ concerns. Residents surrounding the location of the shelter, at First United Methodist Church on Pine Street, complain of loitering, unsightliness, refuse and other issues they blame on the homeless. The homeless congregate at the church not just on cold weather nights, but weekly, when the church distributes goods from its food pantry, and when the Sheltering Tree holds office hours to help the destitute with specific needs.
“We dearly want to work with the city on any issues that come up or any concerns that you have,” Martin Collins, a Sheltering Tree board member, told city commissioners. “This isn’t about winning or losing an issue. This isn’t about us being happy that the city had to change direction.” He said the organization is not happy, and in fact the federal investigation is open-ended, its outcome uncertain. “We hope that somewhere in the middle we can find a compromise that works for all of us.”
The goal for both the Sheltering Tree and the city, he said, should be to be able to continue to help the homeless. “and one thing I personally learned from the public meetings was that we need to reach out and respect the concerns of the people of Bunnell,” Collins said.
To that end, he said the Sheltering Tree office hours that had been held concurrently with the food pantry hours on Wednesdays, causing a large turn-out not only of homeless people but people in need, have been moved to a different day–Tuesday–and those who seek help on that day are required to wait in the church’s courtyard, thus further reducing their presence in neighbors’ eyes. The organization is also requiring check-ins and, in essence, trespassing those who don’t comply with basic rules, such as using drugs or alcohol around the premises.
“They are decent human beings who lived lives like me and you for 20, 30, 40 years, and then they hit on bad times. Most of those people have a lot of dignity and self-respect and behave themselves in a mannerly way,” Collins said. But he recognized that there are a few “bad apples.” Those should not define the organization’s work. He called on the city to “discuss a way of doing a better job to touch the residents’ concerns.”
John Le Tellier, the Sheltering Tree board member who filed the Department of Justice complaint in June, said the organization was always willing to adapt and cooperate. “We always have, we always will. We love to work with the city,” Le Tellier said. “Going to the department of justice was the last thing on our mind. However we felt we needed to.”
But he had another observation for commissioners. He showed them images of the church on Pine Street before it became surrounded by residential homes, and before the city even had residential zoning there. And he read from the church’s mission statement, which has always included a ministry to the homeless, he said. “We are part of the church’s vision,” he said.
“That church has been here for a hundred years, and their mission hasn’t changed.”
A church trustee also addressed the commission to press the point of cooperation and compromise, before Jerry Cameron, the county administrator, stood up to speak. It was the first time the top county official had appeared before the Bunnell commission to speak directly on the homeless issue, and to acknowledge that it was not Bunnell’s problem exclusively (though he did not absolve Bunnell of shouldering what responsibility it can in its backyard).
“I can almost cry right now over what you just stood there and said,” Bunnell Mayor Catherine Robinson said, “because I’ve been talking about the homeless problem and doing something globally for the homeless, not just little bits and pieces, since 20011, and this is the first time that I’ve seen someone from the county come and say it’s a county problem, and we’re going to work on it on a county level.”
She was right. Bunnell has spearheaded discussions on debate on the issue since 2011, at times as a result of the friction between residents and the Sheltering Tree, at times just to bring homeless discussions into the open, in the search for solutions. The city hosted a community meeting in 2011, when Robinson explicitly spoke her mantra–”It’s a flagler County problem.” Two years later it addressed the matter to a near-full house during a commission meeting, when the Sheltering Tree was again on the defensive and forced to justify its existence, and two months later hosted a community forum on the issue at its old city hall. County officials, including the county administrator (Craig Coffey) attended, but, notably, Coffey did not speak. And Palm Coast and Flagler Beach officials didn’t bother showing up. That sent Robinson the message that she’s been battling since: that it’s a Bunnell problem.
Obviously, she was pleased to hear Cameron say unequivocally that homelessness is “a critical issue for the entire county.”
But Cameron speaks slowly and chooses his words deliberately. His message was full of sympathy, but also shared, not unilateral, responsibility: if it is a countywide problem, in other words, Bunnell still has a critical role to play, especially when it is, or was, already playing it.
“By definition homeless people don’t have an address, so they aren’t Bunnell’s problem, they’re the community’s problem,” Cameron said. “It has fallen on you to at this particular time have to address an aspect of homelessness.” That doesn’t displace the fact that it is a nationwide problem, he said, or that it took him 10 years in St. Johns County, where he was in county government, to line up services for the homeless.
“But this is a time that the community needs to realize and own the countywide problem of homelessness,” Cameron said. “We support you in any way that we can. We will continue to work on a permanent solution that has countywide ownership, and I’m led to believe that the other municipalities are willing to step up and share some of the burden to keep this from being just a Bunnell problem. It extends far beyond co-ownership. The homeless problem has to be addressed on a systemic basis. As soon as I can get some of these other fires put out, I intend to devote a considerable amount of energy to it.”
laura petrarca says
Homelessness is everyone’s problem. I am thrilled that this is happening!
LDRM Flagler says
It might surprise you but there are a lot of people looking for a job that have families to support, car payments, rent (@1300) and utilities to pay, that are also looking for jobs! I know people who have been looking for over 6 months and the employers say that they get over 100 responses for these jobs. They are a few paychecks away from becoming homeless! Lets employ them first.
LDRM Flagler says
This repy was meant for” CB from PC says”. I posted in the wrong box. I’m new to this format! Sorry laura.
CB from PC says
One thing is missing from all of this.
If these people are homeless due to tough times, why can’t The Sheltering Tree staff work with local employers to have them work for a paycheck.
I realize it is for “cold weather”,
but when there are expensive tents, smartphones and homeless Facebook Groups, such as was occurring by the Library until last year, gotta wonder.
A full time job would add to their “dignity” and eliminate one more situation which impacts those living nearby.
I’m guessing you’ve never been broken and or homeless. Where would you find safe shelter to sleep and one of the homeless biggest problem is the theft of their leagal papers and what little personal property they might of been lucky enough to have kept. They fall asleep or walk off to relieve themselves and upon waking up or returning to where you were sleeping and all is gone. Now, all you have are the clothes you’re wearing. You go out looking for a job. Broke, hungry, dirty and wonder if you were lucky enough to get a job, how you’ll survive while waiting a week or more for your pay check. That’s if you are able to last that long and not let go because you have no clean clothes or any thing to wear if you were able to find a place to wash them. Or even wash or brush your teeth. Oh! I bet you’re getting really hungry. Oh! Here comes the rain or blistering heat or in Florida that cold weather that chills you to your entire body. WOW. That was only Monday. While you’re thinking about the above. Also remember Matthew 25:31-46. God bless. Chaplain Dennis St Lawrence.
RJ Polletta says
Thank you Mr. Cameron! Working together is always a better solution.
Martin Collins says
On behalf of The Sheltering Tree thank you Flagler Live for publishing this piece.
We appreciate you keeping our county residents aware about this very important issue.
The Sheltering Tree operates strictly thru volunteers and the generous donations of the residents of Flagler County.We appreciate the opportunity this gives our team to help the most vulnerable people in our county.
A lot of residents live very close to the edge and we focus on helping these people to avoid homelessness when a crisis comes up in their lives such as divorce,illness,disability,or an unexpected financial burden.
Our other key issue is to help the chronically homeless with such basic issues as a cold weather shelter,food,clothing,tents,and sleeping bags to provide them with the most basic items of survival.
Thank you to all who help us to achieve these goals.
These issues are addressed at no cost to the cities or government of the county.
We also commit to the city of Bunnell and it’s residents to be sensitive to your needs and to address problems quickly and effectively.
Martin Collins board member of the Sheltering Tree.
CB from PC says
“Homelessness is everyone’s problem”…
Well, here are some solutions:
1. Be responsible, show up for work as required and do what is asked by your employer.
2. Kick the substance abuse habit.
3. Realize any assistance is temporary until you are able to pay for your living expenses and get your own place.
Hard to believe, but some people choose to be homeless…in which case, there is no solution to the “problem”.
My comment is on the Church where the SHELTERING TREE is being opened. This Community of the City of Bunnell is open on hearts that serve the homeless. I, myself back in 2011 was a volunteer and helping out at the Church on Pine Street. Had a FULL TIME JOB. Helped with other businesses alongside the Board at First United Methodist Church. Very well DESERVED kind-of-people who would come and get together. Making you a cooked meal, giving shoes and giving coat. The wonderful leaders of men and women in businesses surrounding Flagler County all volunteered and served to donate to well DESERVED cause. Making strides back in the day with the SOCIAL WORKERS to get help for those who were mentally incapable. I’ve seen Police and Sheriff Deputies do a pay-it-forward toward causes at this community on their days off. Let me tell you all something GOD IS NO RESPECTOR OF ANY PERSON. But His work gets done when Humane reasons to fulfill a duty for all homeless and citizens who don’t have heat and need a warm place to stay. THANK YOU FOR VOLUNTEERING YOUR TIME. Just knowing retired Judges and Lawyers and Council members is wonderful limit of hope and joy toward those who are homeless. FLAGLER COUNTY I’VE DONE MY SHARE OF ECKATETTREA to help bakers act those in need. I’ve also learned DOMESTIC VIOLENCE IN THE WORKPLACE through this church back in the day. I WILL STAND UP NEXT TO ALL HOMELESS AND DEFEND them, but I’ve been chosen few to get out of homeless world. So please if there needs anything to be done. I PRAY FOR Daytona Sports Athlete Vince Carter who has Rehabilitation Sanctuary. He donated money to build it. But I am Telling you, because I’ve of those officers who seemed me out and was coming to speak to me about those who have displayed mental issues and those who were disabled. You see those who be seen on premises where I had been visiting. I learned from SAFE houses for domestic violence and I learned through A.A. meetings. Many church members of different community of churches need to establish A.A. meetings inside their sanctuary LIFE IS TOO SHORT. See alot of guns and drugs. We need FEARLESS L.E.O. and those business people to be fundamentally capable of changing the life events that still designate homeless people to be consuming drugs and alcohol. LET US ALL WHO ARE CITIZENS STATING THEY LAWFULLY ABIDE TO HELP AND DISTRIBUTE THEIR TIME AND NEEDS TOWARD THESE YOUNG MEN AND WOMEN INCLUDING OLDER ADULTS. SERIOUS inquiries were helping bring baskets of clothes to their home and wash those clothes for homeless. Next those who volunteered helped come near the premises where homeless be and transport them to the Church on the Rock, to help distribute clothes, food, and give them showers. WE NEED THOSE WHO WOULD MAKE A DIFFERENCE IN THEIR COMMUNITY. Since having been helper of the past WHATVWILL IT TAKE FOR THOSE IN CATHOLIC CHARITIES, IN THOSE CHURCHES UNITED WITH OTHERS AND ESTABLISHING GROUOS EVERY FIRST OR THIRD voted and chosen DAY OF THE WEEK to help and assist. ( in my state where I live I worry about E-COLI, STAPH INFECTIONS, HEPATITUS OUTBREAKS, what happened to the PORT A POTTY ORGANIZATION KNIGHT INC…..? Something has to give the day is about to bust open. THE DAYTONA SHELTER IS FAR AS MANY. THE TALLAHASSEE IS FAR AS MANY. THE MIAMI SHELTERS IS OVERCAPACITATED….we need BLESSINGS FOR THOSE ON flagler and volusia county. Pastors and Reverends alike the best Pastor Beth who has moved on. We can never forget to remain hopeful this holiday season. ZzI CRY OUT TO THOSE WHO CAN distribute love and hope but only have $$,$$$,$$$.00 TO FULFILL……WHEN I STATE A JUDGE CAN DO IT OR LAWYER OF ESTATE CAN DO IT. OR EVEN AN FINANCIAL OFFICER OF EXEC BRANCH IN A BANK CAN DO IT. FLAGLER, time is now…… I’m running out of hope since my wrongful death case has not made restitution yet. BUT I PRAY TO GOD ITS NOT OVER. TILL GIDCSAYS ITS OVER. In the projects downtown BUNNELL FL was a great place to set up microphones and stage and church go all out. DONATIONS COME FROM ALL OVER… why not now?
Think I am playing, being around Democrat and Republicand of every county in all states at Capitol Building was a great place even through the times of Rick Scott. I pray for them because we seen and heard how much they care about homeless. SO WHAT WITH YOU FLAGLER? WE LIVING DOWN THIS YEAR OF 2019. Time for AVTURN AROUND time for what we go through is our BREAKTHROUGH I PRAY WHO reads this has compassion. Jesus did. Why not FLAGLER? ( we know I’ll be visiting council soon, but I know my best friend Dwayne Jenkins and family HAVE DONE MORE EVEN FOR THOSE IN RECOVERY. GO VISIT BZNTAM CHEF IN ST AUGUSTINE FL. tell him lynn sent you. And ask him WHY NOT FLAGLER? MERRY CHRISTMAS & HAPPY NEW YEAR TO ALL ❤)
Sorry for the misprints. I know you all understand me. ” ITS NOT OVER YET BUNNELL FLORIDA, NOT AT ALL, GOD BLESS YOU ALL.”