We pass them in our cars – disheveled men holding signs asking for work. We see them on sidewalks, pushing carts or sleeping on benches. Many of them are less obvious – they go to school, go to work, and sleep discreetly in their cars.
They are Volusia County’s homeless. Many of them are good, hardworking people who suffered a financial crisis and lost their ability to pay their rent. Others are mentally ill, disabled or abused.
Despite a slowly improving economy, homelessness continues to be a serious problem in Volusia County. Annual counts go up and down, ranging from 1,000 to 5,000, depending on the economy, the time of year, even the weather.
Each year during a 24-hour period in late January, the Volusia/Flagler Coalition for the Homeless counts people who spend most nights in shelters or places most don’t consider a home. They track them down in wooded areas, parks, abandoned buildings, downtown streets, cars and bus depots.
The official count in January 2015 was 1,110, down from 1,464 the previous year. If we use a broader definition of homelessness, including those who are staying in motels or with friends, the number approaches 5,000.
Life on the streets is treacherous. Homeless people often fall victim to crimes and are susceptible to illness and injury. Many can’t find a job because they don’t have an address, cell phone, proper clothing, or access to a computer.
A host of community-based organizations, including the Neighborhood Center of West Volusia, provides temporary and transitional housing, food, clothing, and assistance with utilities.
But the need is too great. There aren’t enough beds for every homeless person. And there isn’t enough affordable housing in Volusia County.
City and county officials have joined with social service organizations to discuss the feasibility of creating a homeless shelter west of Daytona Beach that could hold as many as 250 people. Plans are not firm, and funding has not been designated, but a growing number of community members could make this dream a reality.