Tuesday, October 26, 2021

Home Again looking for new home to serve most vulnerable in St. Augustine. (SAR) -- BoCC's Actions Require Remedies

Should Home Again St. Johns be a bit more assertive in dealing witb St. Johns County Board of Commissioners? 

Should it explore federal court civil rights litigation for discrimination against persons with disabilities and breach of contract? 

You tell me. St. Johns County Board of County Commissioners and your hired hands: you have a lot of explaining to do. 

Third generation construction scion Mike Davis and his non-profit group's innocent homeless clients were stiffed and evicted by St. Johns County Commissioners.

There's something dreadfully wrong in the St. Johns County Administration Building. 

Some of the denizens of the St. Johns County Administration Building may lack compassion and common sense.  The optics of this story are horrible for St. Johns County, which bragged earlier this year about "200 Years of Excellence."

Show me.  

If Mary, Joseph and the newborn Baby Jesus arrived here in St. Augusttine for Christmas, would these five white male Republicans say, "There's no room at the inn?" 

As Bill Clinton once said, "A right without a remedy is simply a suggestion." 

Do we need HUD OIG, FBI and USDOJ to conduct a civil, criminal and administrtive invetigation? 

My late friend, mentor and former client, FBI, HUD and EPA Senior Special Agent Robert E. Tyndall investigated civil rights violations and corruption, and helped put local and state officials in prison.  I miss his sage advice.

What do y'all reckon? 

From St. Augustine Record: 

Home Again looking for new home to serve most vulnerable in St. Augustine 

By Colleen Michele Jones 
St. Augustine Record 
October 26, 2021

Home Again, a nonprofit serving the local homeless population, no longer has a home base of its own.

On Oct. 17, the group turned over the keys to a cluster of mobile units it operated at a St. Johns County-owned site on State Road 207. Staff put most of the organization's supplies — like toiletries, cleaning supplies and food service items — in a storage unit.

The land is being cleared in preparation for construction of a new affordable housing development at the site. The development, Victoria Crossing, will be a complex of 96 units open to low- and moderate-income people, going for as low as about $200 a month.

How it started:Home Again St. Johns homeless clients could lose services as organization faces eviction

Previous coverage:St. Johns County Commission approves Victoria Crossing, new affordable housing complex

In the meantime, Home Again is desperately searching for either a temporary or permanent facility to continue serving what Executive Director Ellen Walden says is an entirely different population than those who would be eligible for the low-income units.

What does Home Again do?

For years, Home Again ran a drop-in clinic for the homeless on S.R. 207. The center provided meals, showers, laundry facilities, clothing and other services for those who are what Walden calls the "economically homeless" — those a paycheck away from bankruptcy; the working poor; and others who sleep in tents or cars overnight but still need help with basic necessities.

The clinic typically served upwards of 50 people a day, but during the pandemic those numbers began to climb.

Home Again rented the land on 207 from the Salvation Army, and then over the last couple of years, from the county after the government took it over in preparation for Victoria Crossing.

But Home Again had to pull the plug on its services over two weeks ago, and is in limbo as it tries to figure out what comes next.

Walden said the group was aware of the impending eviction months beforehand, but added, "We've been told that for three years now. Each time it's 'You've got six months to move,' so we lived like that for awhile. We would've been in trouble if we hadn't already been mostly packed up."

According to George Johnson, a grant administrator with the county, Home Again received a 90-day notice of eviction. Johnson's department also hired a county-provided firm to assist with Home Again's relocation process.

But Johnson acknowledged there have been problems.

The alternative site identified as most feasible by the county is a vacant lot at 285 S. Holmes Blvd., which is located within the West Augustine community. To ready it for use, permits would need to be filed and approved, a septic sewer hook-up installed as well as other infrastructure.

'Safety issues' at clinic site

But according to Greg White, who serves with the West Augustine Community Redevelopment Agency, there has been pushback.

In a neighborhood focused on improving its safety, vitality and self-image over the last several years, the last thing some residents want to see is a drop-in clinic that they say could bring emotionally disturbed or transient folks into their streets, even their woods if they should choose to set up camp there.

"Certainly, we empathize for the homeless. … but this is not the right location," White said. "Folks who would congregate here from 2 to 8 p.m. [for Home Again's services] are not going to go back up to 207. There are safety issues here."

Ervin Bullock, board president for the Compassionate St. Augustine organization, said she had become interested in the plight of Home Again and is trying to help with a Plan B for the group.

But she tends to agree with White, saying: "Home Again needs really good housing for its homeless, but this is not the place. We've got to find a better solution."

In the meantime, Walden, who is fiercely protective of her clients, has been making personal deliveries of food and water to those she can find. She's trying to get local laundry facilities to give her free vouchers for the poor to use their facilities.

"Many of them are very emotional; that's their lifeline and it's gone," Walden said.

The outreach team at St. Francis House downtown is making more rounds to areas where they feel some of Home Again's clients might be in need of basic necessities, although that group has not seen an uptick in drop-in services, according to Executive Director Judith Dembowski.

"We're just trying to do the best we can to move forward in the most positive way possible while continuing to meet our folks' needs," said Walden.

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