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Many visitors to Downtown DeLand have noticed a certain city bench on South Woodland Boulevard is suspiciously vacant as of late.

The bench in front of Ace Hardware at 245 S. Woodland Blvd. has long been the home of 58-year-old Earl Edwards, but DeLand officials are cautiously optimistic that Edwards’ bench days may be over.

“The Neighborhood Center [of West Volusia] helped find Earl a place to stay,” DeLand City Manager Michael Pleus said. “They are providing daily case management and working with Stewart-Marchman to find a mental-health counselor.”

“So far, it’s working,” Pleus added hopefully.

Edwards moved into his new living arrangement late last week. If all continues to go well, he may no longer be a Downtown DeLand fixture, as he had become.

The Beacon wrote extensively about Edwards’ situation and history in our Weekend Feb. 21-24 edition.

The bench where he formerly made his home frequently had blankets, notepads, donated food and other items piled upon it. It became Edwards’ abode shortly after his most recent release from prison in May 2018.

According to Volusia County Clerk of Court records, Edwards has been involved in no fewer than 70 court cases — a combination of criminal arrests and temporary detainments for evaluation under the Florida Mental Health Act, commonly known as the Baker Act.

Edwards was held under the Baker Act some 16 times. His arrest record lists crimes ranging from criminal mischief to theft, stalking, drug charges and aggravated assault.

His most recent arrest, in March 2015, was for aggravated battery — a felony — after police said Edwards got agitated and “pushed” a woman after asking for money, according to a charging affidavit.

City officials had recently stepped up efforts to look for a way to resolve the so-called “Earl problem,” going so far as to discuss a new law that would make it illegal to set up camp on a city bench or elsewhere on public property.

The ordinance would apply to any person doing such a thing, but Edwards’ very visible living situation was much of the impetus behind the proposal.

At a recent DeLand City Commission meeting where the proposed ordinance was discussed, attorney Kirk Bauer, whose office is next to the Ace Hardware and nearly behind the bench, shared a series of rough experiences he, his staff and customers had had with Edwards.

Those experiences ranged from Edwards sleeping on his office’s porch to Edwards chasing cars in the parking lot.

A majority of the City Commission seemed to support the proposed ordinance in concept.

Even though Edwards is in a better living situation for the time being, Pleus said, the ordinance will still be brought to the commission for a vote in the future.

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