Homeless Set Up Camp Outside Volusia County Building
The lawn in front of Volusia County’s administration building in Daytona Beach is covered with blankets, cots, and nearly ninety homeless men and women. They have settled there from Deland, Port Orange, and Daytona. The small area for them is one of the last safe places open for them to sleep. But for government officials, it’s a wake-up call that the county’s homelessness problem has reached its peak. 90.7’s Renata Sago went to the camp and filed this report.
They lie sideways on cots covered with knit blankets and black trash bags filled with everything they own. Some carry paper bowls of spaghetti served by Salvation Army workers out of a food truck parked nearby.
The count for the day is 87. That’s how many people are camped outside Volusia County’s administration building in Daytona’s busy downtown. Joshua Lennox has been here for three weeks.
“When I first came here, there was only seven,” he says.
Lennox, his girlfriend, and their dog settled here after not finding a shelter that would take in pets and being kicked out of the places they’d usually sleep.
“We used to be allowed on the beach side. They said you could go on the park benches as long as it was night time. Now they took all the park benches up, so now we have nowhere over there. We had the City Island Park and they shut that down. And a lot of us didn’t choose this, I mean things happen, and that’s why we’re out here.”
Liam Sweeney has seen the number of people grow at the camp, from just a handful.
“We’ve got a mixture of people that are coming down here. They were under the impression that this was a safe zone. That they were allowed to stay here. I don’t know if it’s allowed. But it’s not being ignored.”
Sweeney is the homeless veteran outreach coordinator for the Salvation Army. He serves food every day. But he and his team do assessments to figure out where to place many of the people camped out. Some need permanent housing. Others, mental health treatment.
“We’re trying to help everybody,” he adds.
And while Sweeney is filling bowls of food and checking off assessment sheets, government officials are in the midst of a debate over how to address the homeless camp. A county councilman has proposed turning property near the administration center into a temporary homeless safe zone. Meanwhile, Daytona Beach city council members have agreed to allow the Salvation Army nearby to convert its gym into a 46-bed temporary shelter. It’s still unclear where the rest of the homeless will go.
“Many cities feel like it’s the county’s responsibility,” says Carrie Rosolino. “The county says, ‘No, the cities need to pitch in and help.”
Rosolino is part of a coalition of churches called Fighting Against Injustice Toward Harmony, FAITH. The group has been working for four years to get the government to tackle the county’s homelessness.
“Because we can’t get people to work together. We’re leaving people out in the cold. Literally. Out in the cold,” says Rosolino.
While the homeless camp has government officials talking more about emergency shelters, FAITH is proposing a long-term solution: a 250-bed facility called Volusia Safe Harbor. It’d be a center for housing services, mental health treatment, and career counseling.
“Where our county seat is in Deland, you might get some services there, but then you might find the veterans office here in Daytona beach and for the homeless here, the transportation to and from those services is an impediment to receiving those services,” she adds.
The county has pledged 4 million dollars for the project. But where and when it’ll open is as uncertain as where the members of the homeless camp will go.
“Everybody has a not in my backyard kind of idea. Everybody has a ‘No, we don’t want a homeless shelter in downtown Daytona Beach. We don’t want a homeless shelter in any part of our town.”
Back at the homeless camp, Joshua Lennox paces back and forth past the long line of people wrapped around the county building. He imagines a life outside of the camp in Daytona Beach. Then he imagines the possibility of a place to sleep indoors for a change. He’s happy to see people in the community drop off food and blankets. And council members pledge their support. But that’s not a place to sleep.
“Build us a facility that we can live in,” he says. “Help us out. Take us in and give us what we need to get on our feet. You ain’t gotta keep us there forever, but give us a chance to fix our lives.”