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Port Orange Observer Tuesday, Aug. 20, 2019 3 months ago

'Sparse, spartan, cheap and undesirable': First Step Shelter thumbs-down $425,000 safe zone proposal

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The board also nailed down its lease with the city of Daytona, and a volunteer officially becomes the interim executive director.
by: Jarleene Almenas News Editor

As the anticipated Oct. 1 opening date creeps closer for First Step Shelter, the board continues to pinpoint one possible major component, which could affect the continuing financial support from neighboring cities. A safe zone.

Catholic Charities presented the board at its meeting on Monday, Aug. 19, with a $425,000 estimate to run a safe zone either in the back of the shelter building, or right up front. A security guard was proposed to supervise the area. 

Overall, the board decided an additional $425,000 — which is close to half of what it is costing to run the entire $1.1 million shelter — was too expensive. Board member and CEO of DME Sports Academy Mike Panaggio said running the shelter should be the priority, and that they should focus on searching for more funding to surpass the 45 beds it will serve as is.

“We can’t afford this," Panaggio said. "Not even close.”

Board Chairman and Daytona Beach Mayor Derrick Henry believed the safe zone could be operated a lot cheaper. He said the safe zone doesn't need its own security guard, and instructed Catholic Charities to come back to the board with a "sparse, spartan, cheap and undesirable" safe zone. 

“As much of nothing," Henry said.

The safe zone isn't a camp, he said. The homeless won't be fed, and must leave in the morning, thought the board hasn't yet hashed out the specifics on how long they can be there. Sunup to sundown was suggested by retiring board member and Holly City Manager Joe Forte. 

Port Orange City Councilman and board member Chase Tramont said the more he thinks about safe zones, the more he's willing to go back to his council and ask the city to operate its own.

“That’s not how it was billed to the cities, but if I’m just wearing my First Step Shelter hat, that’s the only viable option," Tramont said.

He opposed having a safe zone outside within visibility of those in the program, and proposed it be placed instead out of sight in the woods behind the shelter, though board members said that would bring issues with monitoring the area.

Without a safe zone, the shelter could lose support from cities, Ormond Beach City Commissioner and board member Dwight Selby warned, as participating cities won't be Pottinger-compliant. 

Staffing votes

Jane Bloom, one of the volunteers that stepped up after the departure of Ronald Durham, will now receive a $5,500 a month "stipend" to serve as the shelter's interim executive director of operations while she and volunteer Leslie Bonner go through applications and narrow down the pool of candidates to six.

The motion passed 4-3, with Selby, Forte and Tramont opposing. They said it wasn't personal, but they didn't agree with paying a volunteer that high a stipend. 

“When you sign on as a volunteer, I think that’s what you are," Selby said.

This could set a bad precedent for other future volunteers who sign on for more work than they thought, he added. Henry said Bloom didn't sign up for the amount of work she was doing, and the split between the board caused Bloom to say she wanted to withdraw her request, as she didn't want to perform the role without unanimity. 

The board wouldn't hear of this, and the opposing members reassured her they would back her if the motion passed. The board credited Bloom with the advancement of the shelter these past few weeks.

“We really can’t afford to lose any more ground than we already have," Panaggio said.

Since this was Forte's last meeting, the board appointed Ponce Inlet City Councilman and board member Bill Milano as treasurer. 

Ormond Beach City Commissioner Dwight Selby and Port Orange City Councilman Chase Tramont. Photo by Jarleene Almenas

Down to the wire

Though Oct. 1 is the aimed date for a "soft" opening, not all board members are sure this will happen. During the meeting, Panaggio said Nov. 1 is the earliest he sees the shelter actually opening. He said he's been there five times in the last week, and that there's still a lot to finish. 

Catholic Charities' Bill Bernardo, who will be the shelter's operations director, said construction management said they could move in Oct. 3. 

The board also discussed the language of the lease between the city of Daytona Beach and First Step, with Selby spearheading changes that will hold the city accountable for building maintenance and the responsibility to rebuild the shelter in case of unforeseen damages from storms and the like. 

Also:

  • The board voted unanimously to buy a new 12-person van up to $30,000.
  • Halifax Urban Ministries announced it will be donating about 45 bunk beds and as many mattresses as it can spare. 
  • Panaggio said he's working on starting a separate 501c3 to help fundraise for the shelter.
  • The board will pay 59 cents a pound for the jail to do laundry for the shelter until it buys washers and dryers, which could be coin operated. 
  • The shelter will have a full kitchen, to cost $400,000 which Daytona Beach will front. The kitchen will be installed sometime in the first six months of the shelter opening.

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