The New Smyrna Beach City Commission has unanimously voted down a proposed ordinance that would have opened the door to placing a homeless shelter in the city’s industrial zone.
The decision, which was made during the May 26 commission meeting, sparked applause from a standing room only crowd of citizens in attendance to voice their concerns about welcoming the homeless community to that neighborhood.
The commission had asked City Manager Khalid Resheidat in February to explore steps to address growing concerns with homelessness in New Smyrna Beach. Mr. Resheidat, with input from local residents, businesses and churches that work with the homeless, drafted a plan to provide “temporary transitional housing facilities” for individuals and families “that have been displaced from their homes and are in need of shelter.”
The plan proposed a shelter in NSB’s “heavy industrial” district, which includes property located along Turnbull Bay Road in the New Smyrna Beach airport area.
Annette Taylor, a previous owner of Taylor Storage, was among those who spoke at the May 26 meeting. Despite having some positive experiences with members of the homeless community interacting with her business, she urged the commission to reconsider its plan.
Ms. Taylor said her business, which was in the neighborhood proposed for the shelter, had regular negative encounters with homeless persons that required police intervention. “What we experienced, there will be more of it. You can’t deny that,” she warned the commission. “I am not against helping the homeless; I am for it. I am against the location and changing the zoning.”
Other business owners spoke during the meeting, all stating that placing a homeless shelter in the heavy industrial district along Turnbull Bay Road would have a negative impact on their operations.
Other citizens asked the commission to consider the impact a shelter would have on investments the city has already made in that area, including the Turnbull Street Dog Park, the NSB Skate Park and the NSB Sports Complex.
“You guys have put a lot of money, tax money, into making the Sports Complex what it is and to go throwing that right next door to it, I think is a slap in the face to everybody that has paid money for that,” said William Leven, a local resident. “People travel from all over the state to come and play and that’s going to be one of the first things they see when they drive into the community.”
While none of the commissioners supported moving forward with a shelter in the industrial zone, each spoke of the need to do something to address issues caused by a growing homeless problem in New Smyrna Beach.
Commissioner Jason McGuirk, who said the proposed site for the shelter is a “very bad location for a number of different reasons,” warned that finding a solution would not be easy. “We do have a homeless problem. It is something that has been on the top of my list for three or four years now. I’ve seen it come and it’s getting worse. There’s no easy answer to it or we wouldn’t be here tonight,” Commission McGuirk said.
Vice Mayor Jake Sachs echoed his colleague’s concern about the proposed site, but also called on the community to consider the needs of the homeless. “I hope we are a city of enough love that we care enough to do something,” Vice Mayor Sachs said.
He urged the commission to take it’s time in finding an effective solution. “I want our citizens to be on board,” he said. “I want our homeless to be on board. Are we really going to help them and what cost will it be to the taxpayer and to everyone involved?”
Mayor Russ Owen highlighted the need to equip local law enforcement officials with the tools they need to address the public safety issues raised by homelessness. “I don’t want to be a magnet. I don’t want this to be the homeless Mecca, but I also don't want to have law enforcement not have the tools needed to enforce some basic ordinances to protect the quality of life of our residents. That’s the balance that we’re seeking,” he said.
The Volusia-Flagler County Coalition for the Homeless estimates there are 51 homeless persons in the New Smyrna Beach area on any6 given day.
Chip Clark, who with his wife, Dawn, operates FROG Ministries in Edgewater, said services for the homeless are difficult to access in Southeast Volusia. “It’s sad. There is no housing. There are no emergency shelters. There’s nothing.” FROG Ministries has provided services for the homeless in Edgewater since 2006. For more information, call (386) 957-3822.
Jeff Chaisson, director of Salty Family Services in Ormond Beach, said his organization is in the process of partnering with Southeast Volusia YMCA in Edgewater to provide resources for the homeless. For more information, call (386) 615-9180.