New homeless shelter proposal, a hit or miss?

Raina McGowen
In Motion Staff Writer

It’s a well-known fact that Daytona Beach has a “homelessness problem,” which is notably different than having a “problem with the homeless.” Although a recent proposal to build a new emergency shelter on the western edge of Daytona — out of the way of businesses, bus stations and tourist areas — implies that to city officials, they are one in the same.

For the last few years, County Council members have mulled over the idea of building a new shelter, as there are surprisingly few services made available to the homeless in the area. Beyond that, the few resources that are available are just not enough to handle the vast number of those who need help.

Last winter I was made painfully aware of that fact, when a homeless woman — who also happened to be seven months pregnant — showed up on my porch one evening asking for information about local programs that may be able to get her off the street, even if only for a few nights. I thought that surely there would be an organization that would be able to help a homeless, pregnant woman.

Much to my dismay, after calling every number that my desperate Google search generated, I realized that not only were there very few organizations to attempt to contact, but those that did exist required seemingly simple things (such as valid photo identification) that many homeless individuals don’t have. This was one of several obstacles that the woman sitting on my porch had been facing.

A new emergency shelter is not just an option to be considered, it is a necessity, but due to the associated costs and conflicts, the project faces significant opposition.

According to the Daytona Beach News-Journal, “The proposed shelter would sit on county property off U.S. 92, and requires County Council members to agree to donate that land. The proposal also asks the county to pay $4 million for infrastructure and operating costs.”

Even if these terms are met and the shelter is constructed, some have legitimate concerns, such as whether they would have access to public transportation, and whether homeless people in the area would be willing to leave familiar territory to make use of the new shelter.

Still, even in the best-case scenario, there is still a lot that remains unclear. Is an emergency shelter enough? Is it a viable solution to our homelessness problem, or does it only perpetuate the cycle of revolving temporary — and often ineffective — transitional housing programs that many find themselves stuck in?

“If you build a shelter and they remain there, or they return to homelessness, you’re not giving them as solution,” states Jeffrey White of Volusia/Flagler Coalition for the Homeless.

Unless rapid rehousing and employment programs are implemented in conjunction with a new shelter, the latter will likely only serve as a temporary fix. Furthermore, being homeless does not always mean living on the streets, sometimes it means that the person does not have a permanent residence. It could refer to a college student who is couch-surfing for a place to sleep, or someone who is living in a motel or in other temporary housing units. Those individuals need assistance that a typical emergency shelter can’t provide.

“Currently 70 homeless students are enrolled at Daytona State College,” T.S. Jarmusc writes in a recently published local News-Journal article, going on to state that “in the fall, DSC officials announced plans for a 10-part strategy to combat homelessness, including approximately $2 million renovations to the Lenholt building to transform it into a one-stop student resource center. The program also offers or will offer free bus passes, short-term shelter, support groups, job assistance and other assistance.”