The homeless camp behind the Flagler County Public Library has created public health and safety hazards.
What goes on in the woods behind the Flagler County Public Library is “out of sight and out of mind,” as District 5 County Commissioner Donald O’Brien puts it. Driving past the library via the Palm Coast Parkway or Belle Terre Parkway, the issues are barely visible to the naked eye.
Things are quiet, unassuming.
But a walk through the woods that envelope the 19-acre property reveal so much more.
Old, rusty bicycles and wheelchairs mark the trails' entrances. Discarded beer cans, paper and plastic provide a path to an ecosystem of worn out tents — and people.
Library Director Holly Albanese believes homeless people began occupying the area surrounding the library, located at 2500 Palm Coast Pkwy NW, about two years ago. There were only a few tents at first, but it has grown considerably since that time. She estimated that the homeless population that inhabits that area is now about 40.
She’s found homeless sleeping at the entrance to the library when she’d arrive for work at 6 a.m. She’s found discarded needles and other drug paraphernalia outside of her office. She’s cleaned up feces and urine from the floors of the library’s bathrooms. She’s broken up fights and called law enforcement countless times.
With each passing month, the situation grows worse — and the fear of the library’s employees grows, too.
On the morning of Jan. 20, 69-year-old Leroy Hommerding, in his 20th year as the director of the Fort Myers Beach Public Library, was stabbed to death by a homeless man while Hommerding was opening the facility, according to a report by the News-Press.
Albanese said most of her staff doesn’t use the staff parking lot, which is adjacent to one of the entrances to the homeless camp. They fear walking to their cars when it's dark out.
On Wednesday, Feb. 13, Albanese and O’Brien were accompanied by a Flagler County deputy as they surveyed the issue in the woods for the first time.
“I’ve always known that we’ve had challenges with respect to the homeless,” O’Brien said. “But I didn’t know the pervasiveness of it until I saw it with my own eyes.”
The most immediate concerns are the public health and safety hazards.
O’Brien has fielded several complaints from residents of Braddock Lane, who reported homeless wandering into their yards as well as finding discarded drug paraphernalia.
When O’Brien visited the property again on Saturday, Feb. 16, three dogs charged out of one tent. They bit him on both of his legs, breaking through the skin. He was treated and needed antibiotics. Animal Control was called, and the dogs were quarantined.
In addition, littering and human excrement have polluted the wetlands that exist on the property.
“This is heartbreaking for me to see that we have so many like this in our community,” O’Brien said. “It’s stuff we have to work on. And I’m not saying we have to come in here and clear-cut the place. We need to have a more comprehensive approach. We definitely need to address the public safety issues, but at the same time we have to address the human side of it, too. These folks have rights and the county has responsibilities, and we can’t just throw people’s possessions out. We got to have a plan of what we want to do here.”