The future of the First Step Shelter will be changing again with the unexpected resignation of Executive Director Mark Geallis.
The resignation brought much speculation, concern and commentary from Mr. Geallis himself as well as Daytona Beach commissioners and others.
One thing seems unchanged is the shelter will be completed this fall. Whether or not the shelter board remains the same, or the City of Daytona Beach or Catholic Charities takes on a more active role in the process, remains to be seen.
“It occurs to me that there seems to be people on the board who want to dissolve the board or stop the work the board is doing and that causes me some concern,” Commissioner Aaron Delgado said at the May 1 commission meeting. “I think maybe there was an underestimate of how much work is involved. My preference would be to ask (City Manager Jim) Chisholm to come up with a plan to present to us about taking back the project, basically finishing it, and then handing it over once we have it done.
“If we are going to take the licks we may as well be sure we get the project done,” Commissioner Delgado said. “What the First Step Board should be doing right now is fundraising and that’s what I was concerned hadn’t been occurring. It’s very unlikely this doesn’t get built, but my question is: Does it come in remotely in the timeline we talked about. I would like to have a contingency plan in place. The public is stretched pretty thin on this.”
Commissioner Rob Gilliland stated he was hesitant to bring the shelter board responsibilities back to the city, “because when you are doing it, there are a lot of legal consequences because they’ve got our money. We just don’t get the money back because we say 'we’ve changed our mind, give us our money back.' I’m not sure what the answer is. It’s clear there will be a change, I am not sure what that will be. I think we owe it to the board to have a workshop and see what they come up with. I ponder whether or not expanding the relationship with Catholic Charities might not be a bad idea. Getting it open and operational is key at this point. We just can’t afford another delay.”
Mayor Derrick Henry publicly acknowledged the frustrations of the shelter board. He added it was apparently “not a good marriage” between the First Step Shelter Board and Executive Director Mark Geallis. Mayor Henry felt Mr. Geallis’ focus was on structural and operational matters and other issues instead of fundraising, which was for what he was hired.
“We still need a fundraiser” he said. “We have to give the board an opportunity to determine whether it is useful. If they choose to relinquish their role, we would be forced to do something different.”
Mayor Henry agreed contingency plans should be developed and suggested the shelter model may need to change, perhaps into a type of jail diversion plan.
Mr. Geallis, contacted after the commission meeting, stated, “Resigning from First Step Shelter was one of the hardest things I have ever done because of my hopes and passion for the program and area homeless, but also because of the personal financial loss of a good-paying position. I did not sign up for politics. I have taken repeated 'beat downs' since taking this position, what bothered me was that my board president and the FSS leader did not have my back or offer a hand up when needed.
“I repeatedly hear that I was not a good fundraiser, but I raised exactly what was expected in the board approved budget, and exceeded earning my salary in my first year, which was a benchmark several board members thought would be a reasonable first year performance,” Mr. Geallis said. “Raising funds for unknown items, without knowing the amount needed, for an organization that said they might not accept the building, with a board where most members refused to help fund-raise or make personal donations was a near impossible task. Yet, I did raise exactly what the budget called for. Because of the changes by the board and city actions, the project now appears to need several hundred thousand dollars quickly to proceed on schedule.”
He added, “Though I have submitted my resignation and am in my final month of work for FSS, I still believe this project is vital to overcoming our communities’ homeless problems. I was part of the leadership of this project before I was hired by FSS and will continue to work on our area issues with poverty, homelessness and housing as I explore where I can serve in the future.”
All commissioners seemed to indicate the involvement of Catholic Charities is critical to success. The First Step Shelter Board was scheduled to meet May 8, after Hometown News presstime, to further discuss the situation and options.