Daytona Beach Homeless Shelter Board Looking at Permanent Housing
DAYTONA BEACH — The board that’s overseeing creation of a new homeless shelter hoped to open by the summer of 2019 is starting to plan for what will be done to help people after they leave the refuge for the unsheltered west of Interstate 95.
At their meeting Monday night, members of the First Step Shelter Board had a lengthy conversation via Skype with three top officials of a Massachusetts-based program that provides homes to the homeless.
The organization, Soldier On, is interested in building homes in Daytona Beach, and a large piece of open land on George Engram Boulevard next to the city’s Midtown Cultural & Educational Center has been targeted as a possible site for a new village for those with nowhere to go. The Daytona Beach Housing Authority controls the vacant property, which has been empty for more than 10 years, and would have to become a willing partner for that site to be used.
Soldier On runs its programs on donations and government grants, and isn’t asking the First Step Shelter Board for any money toward the proposed project.
“The gem and the jewel is they’re not asking you for anything,” said L. Ronald Durham, the city’s community relations manager and point person on the shelter.
People who live in Soldier On homes help cover their bills with federal veterans benefits, Social Security assistance programs and income they earn if they work. Despite its name, Soldier On provides permanent housing both for veterans and nonveterans.
Two members of the First Step Shelter Board were not at Monday’s meeting, but the five who were there voted unanimously to pursue an agreement with Soldier On. Once a formal agreement is drafted, it will be reviewed by City Attorney Robert Jagger and eventually voted on by the First Step board.
Soldier On officials, who have visited Daytona Beach several times, can proceed with their effort with or without the First Step Shelter Board’s partnership. But the nonprofit is hoping to join forces with those running First Step so they can house and assist people as they graduate from the 100-bed shelter.
“The key to the success of First Step is the second step,” Durham said.
Soldier On, formed in 1994, also provides preventative support services and reintegration programs in jails and prisons. All residents in Soldier On housing are required to complete life skills programs, and the agency provides case managers, access to healthy meals, transportation and other programs.
Since 2010, Soldier On has developed, constructed and managed several new and rehabbed permanent housing projects. The organization says one of its permanent housing cooperatives in Massachusetts provides homes for 39 homeless veterans and has a retention rate of 90 percent.
Residents can become part owners of their new homes, and they are able to live in them permanently if they choose. Soldier On has about 200 housing units in Massachusetts, and has other veterans communities in development in New York, New Jersey and Mississippi.
Pete Gamble, the former executive director of the Daytona Beach Housing Authority, said he tried several years ago to bring Soldier On housing to Daytona Beach. His vision was to put commercial uses on the first floor of buildings and residences above. But he wasn’t able to get enough support. Gamble said a few of Florida’s representatives in Washington, D.C., were willing to help secure funds, but local service agencies at the time didn’t like the idea of an outside agency coming in.
Now Gamble is taking another shot at the effort. Gamble said he visited a Soldier On housing site in Massachusetts and was “very impressed” with both the buildings and the program’s connections to local government, clergy and the Veterans Administration.
“These guys have done an outstanding job,” said Gamble, who was credited with dramatically improving public housing in Daytona Beach during his long tenure overseeing the Housing Authority. “We have to start working together as partners.”
There was widespread support for the idea among those who spoke at Monday’s meeting at City Hall, including Chet Bell and Mark Geallis, both former heads of nonprofits that help the homeless.
“This is promising,” said Mayor Derrick Henry, chairman of the First Step Shelter Board. “It wouldn’t take us long to get off the ground. It could be a sizeable number of units.”
Henry added later that he’s “excited” and thinks Soldier On housing has “the potential to make a deep impact” in Daytona Beach.
“We have to eventually explore something like this, so the the sooner the better,” the mayor said.
“I’m very much encouraged with this,” echoed Chase Tramont, a First Step Board member and Port Orange City Council member.
Durham gave a brief update on shelter construction at Monday’s meeting. He detailed some utility work being done, and said architectural plans are more than 30 percent complete.
Durham’s update didn’t get into specifics for the new building’s construction. At the end of the Feb. 21 City Commission meeting, City Manager Jim Chisholm gave a presentation on the shelter construction timeline. A document the city put together for that presentation shows site and foundation construction being completed in late October, and vertical construction being complete in a year, on March 20 of next year to be exact.
But the shelter wouldn’t open immediately. The records show the certificate of occupancy being issued on April 30, 2019, furnishings being complete on June 30, 2019, and operations starting at the shelter on July 15, 2019.
The 100-bed shelter is being built on a city-owned 626-acre site near the Volusia County Branch Jail that was recently annexed into city limits.