Pastor Doug Hautz’s legacy: giving the homeless a chance. Who will follow in his footsteps? As of now, no one. The shelter is closing Sept. 30.
The little church on North Nova Road is unassuming. It’s easy to drive right past its worn-out baby blue sign. Tall oak trees guard the entrance and cast long shadows over the property. Its faded white exterior has been battered by Mother Nature — much like the people who live within its walls.
The Ormond Beach Alliance Church isn’t just a church. For nearly a decade, it has given veterans, runaways, ex-convicts, recovering (and current) drug addicts and alcoholics, the mentally ill and people who were simply down on their luck a place to rest their heads at night.
It’s a place where many homeless people have wrestled with the good and evil inside of them. Sometimes the battle was won. Sometimes it was lost.
Doug Hautz, the church’s pastor and the director of the homeless shelter, has been there for all of those battles. He knows each face, each story, each name. He loves them, and they love him.
On Sept. 30, Hautz will step down as pastor, a position he’s held for almost a decade, casting doubt on the fate of the shelter.
Hautz, a career youth pastor, became an associate pastor at the Alliance Church, located at 55 N. Nova Road, in 2008. He took over as lead pastor in 2010, when George Hobbs retired. The church is part of the Christian Missionary Alliance, an evangelical Protestant denomination.
The first ministry Hautz was involved in was the Angel Food project, which provided food to the area’s homeless population. The ministry left him unsatisfied.
“The typical response is to just feed the homeless,” said Hautz, who became a Christian as a sophomore in high school. “People love to hand out peanut butter sandwiches and all that stuff. But my realization was that people need a place to sleep, an address, a phone number.”
There are several homeless shelters in Volusia County, including the Halifax Urban Ministries Center, Family Renew Community Inc. and the Coalition for the Homeless. Most shelters require residents to be off the premises throughout the day, presumably looking for a job.
Hautz, with help from his congregation and nearby churches, opened Ormond Beach Alliance’s shelter in 2009. It started as a cold-weather shelter and grew to a 365-day operation in 2010.
“Most churches will have a ministry to the homeless,” Hautz said. “I didn’t want to create two different classes of people. Right from the beginning, there wasn’t going to be a distinction between them and us. We were them, and they were us.”
The shelter started with five people. Over the years, the number grew. For the past year, the church has been providing shelter to 40 homeless people.
Every night, homeless people ranging from infants to senior citizens sleep on donated cots and mattresses tucked in between pews in the fellowship hall, church foyer and sanctuary. They cover almost every square inch of floor space.
“By Sunday morning, everything gets cleaned up and put away,” Hautz said. “You wouldn’t ever know people were living here throughout the week.”
The residents are allowed to hang around the church throughout the day as opposed to searching for jobs they know they’ll most likely never get.
There are rules, however. New arrivals are handed a letter that lays out expectations during their stay: a welcoming attitude toward growing spiritually, dealing with their addictions and dysfunctions, actively searching for employment or assistance, and transitioning into independent living.
“You are not up against a clock,” the letter reads. “If it takes time, it takes time. Attitude and progress are everything.”
And while Hautz and the church have been able to provide shelter to hundreds of homeless people since the shelter’s inception, it hasn’t been without complications.
In addition to mental health struggles of residents, in his near-decade of running the shelter, Hautz has dealt with plenty of people who brought drugs into the shelter. On one occasion, Hautz recalled, one resident had to be taken to the hospital after falling on his head during a drunken stupor.
“The people who are here are forcing themselves to deal with themselves, the time they’ve wasted, the energy they’ve wasted over their lives,” he said. “But the results are not up to us. All we can control is doing the right thing and teaching the right stuff, and that is that people matter. Homeless people matter.”
However, the shelter hasn’t been the best method for growing the church.
When Hautz became a pastor in 2008, there were 18 members in the congregation. Now, there’s 20.
“There’s a lot of churches that want to deal with the easy stuff,” Hautz said. “I just think that we’re called to deal with the hard stuff.”
Although the homeless population in Volusia and Flagler counties has decreased dramatically over the last few years (from 2,384 in 2012 to 683 in 2018, according to a survey by the Volusia and Flagler Coalition for the Homeless), homelessness remains a fraught political issue.
The First Step Shelter project has been in the works for the past few years in Daytona Beach. It’s expected to be a 140-bed facility, with a June 2019 opening.
“We see people without shelter, and we want to do something about it,” said Dwight Selby, an Ormond Beach city commissioner and First Step board member.
The problem: What was projected to be a $2.5 million project could now cost upward of $5.3 million.
Hautz believes the shelter is a waste of money. Instead, he said, more churches and religious organizations should be open to the idea of solving problems within the community.
“This is an example of, instead of doing the right thing, let’s do something,” he said. “For the first time, I believe that we’re actually solving a problem that government can’t solve. Why is it that we always ask the government to solve the problems that we should be taking care of? This particular thing — the widow, the hungry — those are the things that we’re supposed to solve. We’re supposed to leave a footprint behind, to do something different.”
Selby, who has lived in Volusia for the past 35 years and has witnessed first-hand the plight of the area’s homeless, agreed with Hautz.
“When I read scripture, I don’t see Christ saying, ‘ Tell your government to take care of the widows and orphans,’” Selby said. “I see Christ saying, ‘So as you treat them, you treat me.’ It’s a personal call to do that.”
He added: “With that being said, if the services aren’t being provided, somebody’s got to do it, and I guess government is the next-best alternative.”
Doug Hautz slowly gets out of his car, parked in the church’s parking lot. His legs wobble. He almost loses his balance. He quickly grabs the car door to steady himself. Before he attempts to make his way into the church building, he insists he doesn’t need a cane.
“I’ve only fallen a couple times before,” he said.
He approaches the door to his office, which is tucked in the back corner of the building. Hands shaking, he rummages through his keys. It takes a few minutes, but he finally manages to jiggle the door open.
He steps into his office. Hundreds of Bibles and religious texts line all four walls of the dimly lit room. Crates of water and food are strewn across the floor.
He sits down. He can’t stand for too long. It tires him out.
He talks about the shelter: why it’s there, how it came to be, the people he’s seen come and go. He pauses. The tremors are almost overwhelming. He reaches into a pocket of his jeans and pulls out a small bottle. He removes two pills and pops them into his mouth. Slowly but surely, the tremors start to quiet down — at least for the time being.
Hautz has Parkinson’s disease. He was diagnosed in 2009.
It started with just the right side of his body. When Hautz was in the process of obtaining his ordination, he had to type a paper — 90 pages in all about church doctrine and the importance of Christ’s “Great Commission” — entirely with his left hand.
The disease started to affect both sides of his body a couple of years ago. His tremors became even more unbearable, he struggled to walk, his speech became slurred, he tired out quickly. He eventually came to a painful realization: He just couldn’t do this anymore.
Hautz decided to step down as the pastor. His last day is Sept. 30.
“The frustration is that I know healing happens, and I believe in healing,” Hautz said. “It doesn’t make me angry with God. It just makes me wonder what his next step is for me.”
After Hautz leaves, there will be no one to run the shelter. He has been coordinating with several nearby churches in an effort to keep the shelter open — and its residents off the streets.
But so far, none of the pastors who are reportedly working with Hautz agreed to be interviewed by the Ormond Beach Observer to discuss any kind of commitment to the shelter. Will anyone take Hautz’s baton? He said he feels like no one is listening to him.
Meanwhile, the Alliance Southeast, the CMA district in charge of the Ormond Beach Alliance, is in favor of closing the shelter for good.
“They want to be the one that closes it instead of me,” he said. “They’re trying to save me from myself. But I would do this until the day I die.”
With the shutdown of the shelter almost certain, and most of the residents having no idea where they are going next, Hautz is afraid for many of them — these people who became his life’s work.
Hautz will have to take solace in remembering them. Everything changes when you remember their names. When you remember each of the hundreds of people who’ve milled through the shelter. To Hautz, they’re more than just random faces or lost causes. They’re individuals — with names, with stories.
Hautz knows them all.
“These people have become my friends,” Hautz said. “I love them.”