Editor’s note: We’re introducing “Neighbor to Neighbor,” a new feature by The Beacon and The Neighborhood Center of West Volusia that answers your questions about efforts to help the homeless and hungry. Have a question? Send it to us: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Many variables come into play as to why there is a visible increase in the number of individuals you are seeing experiencing homelessness in our Downtown area. Based off our experience and outreach efforts, here are a few of the reasons we believe the numbers are increasing:
First, the cost of living is rising exponentially, and with the effects of the COVID pandemic and two natural disasters occurring in the same year, more individuals are experiencing financial crises than ever before.
Households that typically would never have experienced an episode of homelessness, are now finding themselves at-risk and literally homeless.
The effects of homelessness do not differentiate based on social status.
Second, the increase in building and development locally has reduced the number of wooded areas where individuals experiencing homelessness have safely camped or lived over the years — many of these being in close proximity to places where they can buy food and other essentials.
The development of land has contributed to more individuals who are experiencing homelessness becoming our “visible” neighbors, rather than our “invisible” neighbors. Nevertheless, these people have been our neighbors all along, regardless of visibility.
Lastly, the lack of focus and engagement in our community regarding those with Severe Persistent Mental Illness (SPMI), in conjunction with the lack of housing programs for people with mental-health problems, amplifies the overall homelessness pandemic.
Often, those with SPMI are unable to sustain themselves without the support of a program that assists with the management and regulation of medication and other forms of assistance, delivered by qualified mental-health professionals. The lack of such programs contributes to the cycle of homelessness in our community.
What is a solution that does not require taxing hard working struggling people more? Some want to add additional fees to new homes that would be used for rent and affordable housing subsidies. Currently a family wishing to build a new home in Volusia County already has to pay $9,264 in impact fees to the government so will even more fees help make purchasing a new home more affordable for them? Has interjecting tax funded subsidies ever reduced the price of anything? How do you help one person without harming another? Should we ask our government leaders to force even more money out of our neighbors pockets, not knowing what impacts it will have on our neighbors, in order to help others? How sure are we the people we see living on our streets are even from here? Are we being asked to do even more for new comers? We currently have four shelters and in Volusia County tax payers have spent millions of dollars on affordable housing initiatives, how much more of a burden can tax payers take on? If we provide more government funded services will we not attract even more people here?
Lucky we aren’t technically homeless yet. The house we live in was sold without the owner notifying us, we found out by the receipt of a 60 day vacate notice, with no explanation. That wasn’t enough time to find another place to live. We started looking right away, shocked by cost. Even a room, maybe with a private bathroom and entrance, averaged $650 a month. We both work, at a bit above minimum wage, right now minimum wage is $11 an hour, so with everything rising in cost quicker than salaries, even $650 is barely affordable for us, add utilities, auto cost, food, all the basic stuff, we would be at the edge or past our earnings. Lucky, with enthusiasm, because we help with bills and maintenance, and personal care, my Mother let us live with her. Many people in our situation do not have that option. I don’t understand why the municipalities don’t let the homeless have a place to at least pitch a tent on unused land, without being harassed. Put some porta potties, and a water source and some security personnel, and let the unfortunate people live. That would be low cost, compared to the other options I’ve seen that don’t work well, and can’t serve many people.