At least 200 people attended the grand opening of the homeless shelter, which will start taking in occupants on Dec. 16.
Defeat is an orphan, and success has a thousand fathers, said Daytona Beach Mayor Derrick Henry quoting the John F. Kennedy phrase at the First Step Shelter grand opening on Wednesday, Dec. 11.
"As a community, we refused to adhere to the advice of the naysayers, those who said our efforts were futile," said Henry, who chairs the shelter's board. "Those who said that we should give up, that we should quit, that no one would come to a shelter located halfway out of town. But because of your grit, your determination and your refusal to accept the status quo, today I stand before you with at least a thousand people to thank.”
With a history that dates back to 2007 — from initial talks and campaign promises to long board meetings and construction woes — the transitional homeless shelter will officially start taking in men and women on Monday, Dec. 16. A crowd of at least 200 people made up of elected officials, religious organizations, business representatives, healthcare providers and residents attended the opening, where they were able to tour the 15,000-square-foot facility. Up to 45 beds are available, and the facility features a functional kitchen, large cafeteria-style dining room, a medical ward and two separate dorms for men and women.
Bringing the shelter to fruition is a "community endeavor," Henry continued, and despite past levels of support, he said what matters is where the shelter goes now.
“Those things that we disagree about are fundamental, but they are not foundational," Henry said. "They will not destroy us, and we all share a vision for a better community where homelessness is a thing of the past.”
'Together, we can'
In 2016, the Volusia County Council approved 4-2 to help fund the shelter with $2.5 million for construction and a $400,000 annual contribution toward the shelter's operational budget. The latter matches Daytona's contribution. At the time, it was planned the shelter would house 100 people.
County Council Chair Ed Kelley said "you have got a winning combination for all of us" when the private, public and social services sectors interconnect. Catholic Charities will be aiding in the day-to-day operations of the shelter, with William Bernardo acting as operations director.
“Together we can," Kelley said. "Individually, we may not.”
Port Orange City Councilman and First Step Shelter board member Chase Tramont said this is "the last best hope" for many, and that the grand opening marked the beginning in changing people's stories.
“When you look at the endgame of it all, you can’t help but be elated for what’s about to happen in the lives of people," he said.
Port Orange has pledged $35,000 annually toward First Step, and Tramont said that anytime you can get cities and the private sector to work together, it'll be something "special."
The city of Ormond Beach is another prominent partner in the shelter, with City Commissioner Dwight Selby representing the city on the shelter board. Now that the shelter is open, the city will contribute $82,000 toward its operations.
Selby said it's "fantastic" to see the shelter open, and the next big benchmark will be when the shelter sees its first occupant, and later on, its first graduate.
“It’s a progression," Selby said. "I’ve continually stayed focused on the goal, and the goal is to change the trajectory of some people’s lives. We’ve had to do that in the face of a lot of controversy, but we’re here and I’m hopeful that this will do everything that we hoped it would do.”
Needs moving forward
Now that the doors are open, First Step Shelter Executive Director Victoria Fahlberg said her focus is shifting to fundraising. She was hired October following the April resignation of the shelter's last executive director, Mark Geallis.
Fahlberg believes some in the community will contribute to First Step now that it's operational.
"I think that people just want to make sure that it’s a good investment, and I totally understand that," Fahlberg said. "I think my job is to get it open—which we’ve done—and I want people to know that they’ve made a good investment.”
The shelter also needs clothing for the new occupants, as well as volunteers. Henry said without the community's help, the shelter won't be successful.
A step toward ending homelessness
L. Ronald Durham, community relations manager for the city of Daytona Beach and who was very involved throughout the process of bringing the shelter to fruition, acted as the master of ceremonies for the grand opening. He called homelessness "one of the most intense, visceral human realities" experienced across the county.
"When we see someone wrapped on a cold day in a blanket sitting on the sidewalk, we feel their pain because it pierces our own hearts and souls," Durham said. "It is difficult because homelessness affects every neighborhood, and it shouldn’t be this way.”
However, the problem isn't easy to address. He said if there was a book on how to end it, he'd have read it "100 times."
"If we ever accept the notion of pervasive homelessness, we’d be losing some of our own humanity, and we’re not going to let that happen," Durham said. "And so we’re here today because Daytona Beach, and the county of Volusia, has decided we’re going to take the first step.”