St Francis House director resigns

400-RENEE-B-MORRIS-SFHHistoric City News has learned that the former St Augustine Police officer-turned-executive director of the only full time emergency shelter between Jacksonville and Daytona Beach, Renee Byers Morris, has resigned; according to a published article that appeared in The St Augustine Report.

Morris became Secretary of the not-for-profit St Augustine Society, Inc., the organization that operates St Francis House, in April 2005; and, in July 2007, she was named Executive Director. She reportedly left her job with the city “on three-day’s notice”, according to The Report.

“My health was getting compromised,” Morris told former St Augustine mayor, George Gardner from her home Tuesday. “I didn’t have the support I needed from the board. Many don’t realize the pressures of running this – not just the people you serve, but the politics.”

Historic City News editor Michael Gold has interviewed Morris on several occasions, and knows her to be a “hands-on” manager who told us that her faith was the motivation for the work she was doing. The shelter provides services not only to St Augustine, but also all of St Johns, Clay, Putnam, and Flagler counties.

Morris grew up in Iowa — true to the stereotype, she could be “Iowa stubborn”; and, her police training was reflected in her insistence that the shelter be run by rules that were enforced. Whether transient or transitional, those who relied on the services and referrals available from St Francis House respected Morris, her regimented schedule, and obeyed her rules.

Morris’ passion for what she was building on Washington Street showed in her creative approach to problem solving. She was hardly a “shrinking violet” in her role as executive director; although, she previously confided that, because of limited resources, her role as fundraiser was occupying more of her time than she would like. Morris was focused on “deliverables” — being “politically correct” in order to persuade contributions was something that she pulled off, even though it required a concerted effort.

At the time she became Executive Director, St Francis House was considered a “neighborhood nuisance” by many, and a magnet for a very undesirable element of the community. Under her watch, St Francis House has become an unquestioned asset; boasting a more harmonious relationship with neighbors and particularly St Mary’s Missionary Baptist Church across the street, expansion to transitional housing in adjacent buildings, cooperation with the city in providing temporary beds for transients rousted from city park benches, and programs like Fresh Starts in Culinary Arts, training homeless residents for work in food services.

In her immediate future, Morris said she would take “some time off and maybe some traveling”. A lot of things were put on hold with that job, Morris told The Report.

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