Site selection announced for homeless center

City Commissioner and Vice-Mayor Leanna Freeman addressed a small crowd of about fifty leaders of government and non-government service organization this morning, all of whom were eager to hear news of the site selection committee’s progress in finding a home for the homeless in St Johns County.

“We are here today to announce our intentions and to begin including more members of our community to work with us to develop an effective solution to address the homeless among us,” Freeman said.

Freeman, recently elected President of Home Again St Johns, Inc, and Vice-President Mike Davis, have worked tirelessly through a year of site reviews and meetings to address the universe of issues confronting the community as well as our homeless population.

The site selection committee announced details that led to a recommendation that the Salvation Army property located at 1850 SR-207 is “the best location available” for a comprehensive one-stop center where homeless service could be provided.

Committee members are:

Leanna Freeman, Vice-Mayor of St Augustine
Mike Davis, A.D. Davis Construction
Jerry Cameron, St. Johns County Assistant County Administrator
Diane Keesling
A.J. McGuiness, Realtor
David Shoar, St. Johns County Sheriff
Mary Lawrence, local advocate on homeless issues
Joe Joyner, Superintendent St Johns County Schools
Benjamin Coney, Asst Director St Johns County Housing & Community Services
Mark Miner, St. Johns County Commissioner
Al Deinhart
Steve Fricke, Administrative Commander St Augustine Police Department
David Hoak, United Way of St. Johns County

Home Again St Johns will contract with and coordinate existing agencies to facilitate the implementation of a comprehensive centralized center for homeless services such as referrals, housing, hot meals, food pantry, job placement services and a training center.

Salvation Army Chairman, Gary Bruce, said this was a great opportunity for his organization to “further their mission”. Bruce pointed out that the leadership of the Salvation Army could not have found a better use for the approximately 13.5-acre property that they already own. Currently the Salvation Army has three modular buildings stationed at the property’s entrance; however, there is twice as much land behind the buildings, which they also own.

The site selection committee, chaired by Freeman, is made up primarily of local community leaders, was created earlier in the year. Their purpose is to identify and gain approval of a site in the community that is appropriate for the development of a one-stop center for the homeless in St. Johns County.

The Site Selection Committee reviewed over a dozen possible locations throughout the county and settled on the 207 location primarily due its size and the ability to secure use of the property at nominal cost.

The group required a large parcel because of its desire to have room to meet current needs, provide room for expansion; while still providing a natural buffer to the project from its neighbors.

“This location, which is two miles from SR-312 and less than one mile from I-95, will require a transportation plan,” David Hoak told Historic City News. “The committee believes that transportation is a resolvable challenge with proper planning. By comparison, challenges presented at other possible locations, such as too small a footprint or a location that is incompatible with surrounding use, would be more difficult to overcome.”

The SR-207 site is owned by the Salvation Army — and, under the current plans, the Salvation Army would continue to own the property. Home Again St Johns, Inc would have a long-term nominal fee lease; reported to be a thirty-year term at $1 per year.

The St. Francis House has been and continues to be an active participant in Home Again St Johns, Inc, since its formation in 2008. “We recently doubled our capacity on Washington Street,” St Augustine Society, Inc President, Jon Benoit, told Historic City News. “This planned facility will give us the opportunity to double our capacity, again.”

St Augustine Society, Inc operates the St Francis Shelter on Washington Street in downtown St Augustine’s Lincolnville neighborhood. Benoit said St Francis House recognizes that it will be years before this proposed facility is completed and that they are continuing to address the current needs of the homeless in order to bridge-the-gap until the opening of this one-stop center. “One of our current priorities is working with the City of St Augustine to enforce the no camping ordinance in the downtown area,” Benoit said.

The Site Selection committee believes that it will take the entire community to make the goal of a one-stop-center a success. The business community, the provider community, citizens and local government will have to support the project financially and provide approval of the ongoing efforts. A Site Development Committee is being formed to work with the community in creating the plan for this site.

The Site Selection Committee believes that multiple agencies working together on one site is the most effective approach to breaking the cycle of homelessness and setting people on the road to being self-sufficient, productive citizens. Multiple agencies working together provide the additional advantage needed — both in service provision and in fundraising.

Photo credits: © 2012 Historic City News staff photographer

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