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Pinellas Safe Harbor is a model for Volusia homeless shelter — for good and bad

in The Bay and the 'Burg/Top Headlines by

Government leaders in Volusia County are looking to Pinellas County to answer some looming questions over how to deal with the homeless population. The Atlantic Coast county’s leaders are looking at Pinellas Safe Harbor for all its wins, but also its losses.

Government officials are quickly finding that the model in Pinellas may not work for Volusia County.

According to the Daytona Beach News Journal, the Volusia County Council has used Pinellas’s homeless shelter in an old wing of the county jail as something of a model while sculpting its own plans for a large-scale shelter.

The 450-bed shelter has helped more than 22,000 homeless people since it opened in 2011. The shelter offers not just a roof and a bed, but also services to help find jobs, clothing and other necessities for finding a way off the streets.

That all looks very good to Volusia County leaders whose plan includes a 250-bed facility.

It’s figuring out how to pay for it that has become the problem. In Pinellas, as the News Journal notes, the bulk of Safe Harbor’s $2.3 million annual operating budget comes from the county. Cities within the county pitch in, but do so minimally. Pinellas is left with about $1.1 million of the financial burden each year.

St. Petersburg and Clearwater, typically, have been the largest donors to the program. Other cities argue they shouldn’t have to pay for a program because homelessness isn’t a problem within their borders. Some argue they shouldn’t have to pay more to subsidize cities that won’t pay. Others simply say the county should pay for it.

This is a problem in Volusia, where county leaders contend a similar shelter there isn’t possible without guaranteed help from cities. They need to secure at least a five-year commitment in order to make the plan financially feasible because the county is already tapped out on its social services expenditures.

If cities are willing to pony up, Volusia County is prepared to provide five acres of land and $4 million to build the planned 26,000-square-foot facility. But they aren’t optimistic in getting support.

According to the News Journal, the cities most likely to provide funding for the program are Daytona Beach, New Smyrna Beach, Ormond Beach, Holly Hill and Orange City. Others, like Deltona and Port Orange, aren’t as enthusiastic.

To solve some of those programs, the City of Daytona Beach has brought on an expert to evaluate how to make the homeless shelter work. The city is paying homeless expert Robert Marbut $100,000 for 14 months to look at the issue. The Texas-based consultant is also approved to be reimbursed for up to $35,000 in travel expenses.

Marbut, who also worked on the Pinellas Safe Harbor project, recommended securing five-year contracts with the cities within the county. That’s something Pinellas did not do.

Other possible funding ideas floating through Volusia are a potential tax on food and beverages or looking to state and federal grants. Both of those proposals seem less likely to be secured or sustaining than commitments from cities.

Whatever Volusia works out, something needs to happen. Since opening Pinellas Safe Harbor, the inmate population at the county jail has dropped from 3,500 to just 2,800.

In Volusia County it costs about $67 per day to house someone in the county jail. Leaders estimate housing someone in a Volusia Safe Harbor could cost as little as $15 a day.

Janelle Irwin has been a professional journalist covering local news and politics in the Tampa Bay area since 2003. She also hosts a weekly political talk show on WMNF Community radio. Janelle formerly served as the sole staff reporter for WMNF News and previously covered news for and various local neighborhood newsletters. Her work has been featured in the New York Daily News, Free Speech Radio News and Florida Public Radio and she's been interviewed by radio stations across the nation for her coverage of the 2012 Republican National Convention. Janelle is a diehard news junkie who isn't afraid to take on big names in local politics including Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, the dirty business of trash and recycling in St. Pete and the ongoing Pier debacle. Her work as a reporter and radio host has earned her two WMNF awards including News Volunteer of the Year and Public Affairs Volunteer of the Year. Janelle is also the devoted mother to three brilliant and beautiful daughters who are a constant source of inspiration and occasional blogging fodder. To contact, email

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