Volunteers from Habitat for Humanity, the Palm Coast United Methodist Church and Thrivent Financial pitched in for the project.
About two dozen volunteers with paintbrushes and rollers transformed the Open Door Re-Entry and Recovery Ministry on Booe Street in Bunnell from a drab, peeling mildew-stained white to a fresh light beige Saturday morning, a week after Bunnell's City Commission approved a $312,000 settlement. That sum will pay for the Christian-based addiction recovery and diversion center's attorneys and allow the center to stay open after more than a year of legal wrangling and mediation.
It was the local press coverage of the settlement that led to the painting project: Palm Coast United Methodist Church volunteer Michele Seyfert was on the phone with a local Habitat coordinator Lindsay Elliott, saying she'd gotten more volunteers for a planned joint Habitat-United Methodist Saturday build on Sherman Street than the group needed and asking if there was anything else they could be tasked with, when Elliot checked local news website FlaglerLive.com on her computer.
And there, at the top of the webpage and accompanying a news story about the center's legal victory, was a news photo of the center's bedraggled-looking building. "I saw the picture, and I said, 'I think I just found our next project,'" Elliott said. "It was kind of a God thing that, all of a sudden, we have too many volunteers, and this (news story) pops up."
So she called Grace Tabernacle Ministries Pastor Charles Silano, who runs the recovery program, and offered to help. By 9:30 a.m. Saturday, the 1,800-square foot building's had a full first coat of beige paint as about two dozen volunteers from Habitat, the United Methodist Church and Thrivent Financial prepped, cleaned and painted the stucco and cinderblock exterior.
The treatment center, which can house up to eight people who would otherwise face jail for nonviolent, drug-related crimes, or who check themselves in voluntarily, has been operating for about a year. But it wasn't welcomed by many Bunnell residents, who told their commissioners they didn't want the center in their backyard.
So Bunnell tried to block the center by blocking zoning variances that would allow it to house more than six people at a time. Open Door sued, and the case went to mediation before ending with the settlement agreement, which the Bunnell City Commission approved unanimously in a meeting Sept. 28.
In addition to the $312,000 for attorneys' fees (covered by the city of Bunnell's insurance), Open Door has received $50,000 that can be invested in capital improvements in the building, Silano said.
"That will be re-invested in the city of Bunnell," he said. "We're going to do the inside, and replace even the sheetrock, and make it residential in appearance ... upgrade the bathrooms, and things of that nature."
The settlement agreement also places restrictions on the recovery center: It must maintain records proving that no residents have been convicted of sex crimes, drug test all residents at least once a week, keep surveillance cameras inside the building and maintain the footage for city inspection, and allow city inspections once a month, among other conditions.
ALLEVIATING RESIDENT CONCERNS
Silano said the center had volunteered to adhere to those conditions from the beginning — even inviting the local police officers to come through periodically with drug-sniffing dogs — and that it welcomes visitors.
"We want anybody to know that anybody's invited here, unannounced, to take a tour," he said.
The offer is an olive branch to Bunnell residents who have stridently opposed the creation of the center in their midst. Residents speaking in public meetings before the center opened expressed respect for the center's goals, but a sense of frustration that it was being foisted by non-Bunnell residents on an already-troubled Bunnell neighborhood only because wealthier Palm Coast and Flagler Beach would have more resources to oppose it.
“If we go against the people in Bunnell, it’s slapping them in the face, it’s slapping them upside the head," local Pastor Sims jones said in a special Bunnell City Commission meeting about the center last year. "Then you’re going to have real problems.”
Bunnell residents and officials also questioned the wisdom of putting a drug treatment center there on a street with a reputation for drug crime.
"Why bring people that are struggling with addiction to the candy store?” then-city commissioner Jenny Crain-Brady said in the same meeting. “Is it fair to bring the people that you’re trying to divert from being an addict to an area where they can go down the street, they can go around the corner, and it’s there?"
But the center cannot, as some Bunnell residents have suggested, be stuck in the middle of an isolated lot in rural western Flagler where there would be no immediate neighbors: The residents use bicycles — now lined neatly inside the building next to the front door — to get around, and need to be within bicycling distance of jobs and supermarkets. Booe Street is.
In the immediate neighborhood as volunteers painted and prepared to break for lunch Saturday, local residents passing by or watching the project from their homes said they hadn't been troubled by the center's presence.
"I like anything that helps the community," said local resident Edward Smith, who said he'd had his own problems with drugs in the past and appreciated effort to help people kick their addictions. "It's harming nobody; you hardly know it's there," he said. "It's not causing no problems."
Neil Horsford, who recently moved to Booe Street resident, called the center "a good place," and quiet. "It's alright with me," he said. "I've been here for six or seven months now. No problems."
MAKING IT ALL WORK
Meanwhile, Silano said, the center is trying to recover from the impact the litigation had on the recovery center's ability to raise money. It now houses four men and has room for four more.
It needs $55,000 per year to function, Silano said, and is often not eligible for grants because it is faith-based, leaving it reliant on donations. Its residents do pay something: $150 per month on admission, and $400 per month thereafter.
But if the center operated at full capacity for a year, with each resident staying for a full year and paying full rent, the residents would be paying about $40,200 of the total $55,000 needed, leaving a $14,800 shortfall.
Silano hopes the center's second annual fundraiser, to be held this year at 6 p.m. Dec. 5 at Matanzas High School, will help.
Volunteer efforts are helping, and ongoing. The Habitat/Thrivent/United Methodist team is planning to return with landscaping tools for another project to spruce up the center's grounds, helping the center fulfill one of the settlement agreement's requirements: that it maintain a residential appearance.
"This is totally what neighborhood revitalization is all about," Elliott said. "I think our overall mission is to bring community residents, organizations and volunteers together to enhance what's already here. ... This is seeing a need and bringing the community together.