The council voted to assign the existing homeless and housing task force the job of coming up with recommendations within 30 days.
For nearly 1 1/2 hours, James Bellino sat quietly in a corner of the room at the Flagler County Emergency Operations Center, listening to members of the Public Safety Coordinating Council pass and amend motions to deal with the homeless issue that faces Flagler County and its cities.
Then came the public comments.
Bellino, a pastor at Church on the Rock in Bunnell, has been involved with the homeless for several years.
He bathes them. He feeds them. He takes time to listen to their problems, their worries, their fears.
On March 6, the Palm Coast Observer reported that county officials contemplated collaborating with the Church on the Rock as a place to relocate the homeless living in the woods behind the Flagler County Public Library while brush and debris were being cleared. However, after a meeting between Interim County Administrator Jerry Cameron, Bunnell City Manager Alvin Jackson and Police Chief Tom Foster, it was determined that doing so would violate Bunnell’s city codes.
Bellino said nobody talked to him about the potential collaboration. He found out about it by reading the Observer’s story. He’s never met, nor even seen, Jackson before. Jackson was in attendance at the public safety meeting held on the morning of Wednesday, March 13.
“I know what I can and cannot do [with this property],” said Bellino, who is a licensed contractor in Florida. “But to turn a blind eye? There’s no quick fix. There’s no easy pill to swallow that’s going to make it go away. ... I have a facility that I’m willing to open up. You have to partner with the people who are already on the ground and who have a heart to do this.”
County Commissioner Joe Mullins and Palm Coast City Councilman Jack Howell both discussed the idea of creating a task force to analyze the situation and then to present possible solutions.
Mullins laid out a three-pronged approach: new laws to give law enforcement tools to counter panhandling and camping in undesirable areas, coordination with an agency to determine individual needs of the homeless, and a program to pick up homeless and deliver them to an agency.
Trish Giaccone, the executive director of the Family Life Center, had to remind them that the county already has an existing task force — and has had one for years.
“I just feel like we’re putting the apple before the cart,” she said. “It really needs to be the folks that are currently engaging in the conversation. ... 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?’”
The council eventually settled, voting to assign the existing homeless and housing task force the job of coming up with recommendations within 30 days.
“They’re people and lives. They’re human beings, and we have to treat them with dignity and give them hope again.”
James Bellino, pastor at Church on the Rock
Mullins also spoke of the possibility of establishing new ordinances — like those most recently adopted by St. Augustine and Daytona Beach. But County Attorney Al Hadeed cautioned the council about instituting such legislation.
“It is a very treacherous path to fashion a statute or a rule to address homelessness or panhandling in particular,” he said. “It hasn’t been tested judicially, and I would expect that it would be tested judicially.”
The meeting ended with several homeless people addressing the council.
Bonnie Weygandt said she became homeless after her husband of 37 years decided he didn’t love her anymore after she had three strokes.
“I didn’t do anything wrong,” Weygandt said through tears. “I need a place to live. Please help me.”
A homeless woman named Phyllis Adams, who consoled Weygandt after she broke down into tears, also spoke.
“You’re saying the same thing over and over,” she said. “I don’t think you’ll ever make a change.”
“Thank you. For nothing,” she added as she stormed out the door.