County General Services staff and county inmate crews performed the work at the encampment near the library on Palm Coast Parkway.
A county government cleanup effort at the homeless camp in the woods near the Flagler County Public Library branch on Palm Coast Parkway removed 14 cubic yards of human waste, 211 cubic yards of trash and "countless amounts of drug paraphernalia," according to a county staff presentation at an April 15 Flagler County Commission meeting.
"This was a very complex and complicated issue that we were dealing with, not only legal and social issues, but also compounded with a civil rights component," county General Services Director Heidi Petito said during the presentation.
It was a coordinated effort, she added, involving county general services, land management, social services and library staff, as well as Flagler County Sheriff's Office deputies who provided security and inmate crews who helped with the cleanup.
"This was a very complex and complicated issue that we were dealing with, not only legal and social issues, but also compounded with a civil rights component,"
— HEIDI PETITO, Flagler County general services director
The cleanup proceeded from March 11 to April 11 on eight acres of the 19-acre county-owned property, which is now slated to be the future home of a 40,000-square-foot Flagler County Sheriff's Office branch location.
The cleanup effort did not involve removing the homeless individuals themselves — instead, refuse was removed, along with brush that had shielded the camp from view from the library and its security cameras, Petito said. The removal of brush will also reduce the risk of fire, she said.
County Administrator Jerry Cameron said the cleanup is an improvement, not a solution.
"It brought us to a better place. We still have to address the situation, or we will end up right back in the same condition," he said. "We're working on that. It's a tough situation nationwide. The courts have pretty tightly prescribed what you can and can't do with regard to that, and there's a compassion factor, too: You want to treat people as human beings. Heidi (Petito) has worked through that, and we're intending to continue to work through it to come up with a viable solution, both at the library and countywide."
"I agree with our county manager: We have to be humane. I don't think it's humane to leave anyone in that environment, and I'm not going to."
— JOE MULLINS, Flagler County commissioner
County Commissioner Joe Mullins said he'd flown over the county and noted tents in other areas, including near Bunnell Elementary School, the First United Methodist Church in Bunnell and the Kohls in Palm Coast.
"We are going to address this issue: I will make sure of that," Mullins said. "I agree with our county manager: We have to be humane. I don't think it's humane to leave anyone in that environment, and I'm not going to."
The county's Public Safety Coordinating Council is working on solutions, Mullins said.
Other locations, he said, have had success implementing solutions that combine legislation with assessment and placement of homeless individuals.
"Not all of them want to go somewhere — they want, this is a lifestyle — but they're not going to do it in Flagler County. Not throw trash and do stuff like that," Mullins said.
One resident, speaking during the meeting's public comment period, noted that although the library property has been cleaned up, the homeless and their tents are still there.
"The presentation tonight can't be the end," resident Katherine Werzanski said. She added that said she wanted to see more action.
Another resident, Michael Cocchiola, said that while the cleanup was a good thing, he believed Petito's presentation "demonized the homeless."
"You would think, looking at that presentation, that they're all dirty and they're all dangerous and they're all drug users. That is not the case," Cocchiola said. He noted that the presentation hadn't addressed how the camp's residents had become homeless.
"They have fallen on hard times for a lot of reasons," Cocchiola said. "Yes, some are drug addicts. But some are homeless because they missed a paycheck or two or three, or their spouse died and they can't afford their home, or they are sick or they are mentally ill. ... If we do not do something, and do something well and good and fast, you are just going to see that trash pile grow. We have to deal with this. We cannot allow people to be living in the woods like that."