County Commissioners vote to continue support of Mayor’s efforts tackle vagrant problem.

PANAMA CITY — Over the last 10 years Mary Robinson said she has watched her Grace Avenue neighborhood go from one of the best old neighborhoods in the city to one she feels is no longer safe in at night.

She told city commissioners 10 years ago she would take walks around her neighborhood, but now she pays for a gym membership; she used to have mail delivered to her door, but now she pays for a post office box; she used to be comfortable outside at night, but now she pays Gulf Power monthly for an additional street light.

In short, her neighborhood has changed, and she believes the Panama City Rescue Mission is the reason why.

The facility has become “big business,” she said, “expanding far beyond its original mission.”

She encouraged the City Commission during a meeting Tuesday night to act on the homelessness problem downtown.

Commissioners voted to provide continued support to Mayor Greg Brudnicki in his endeavors to work with a city-appointed task force to address the issue and gave him authority to, along with a city staff member, negotiate for the purchase of property for a Community Resource Center. Before a purchase could be made, the commission would have to give approval.

It might not be long before something comes back before the commission.

Emily Dowdy, chairwoman of the taskforce, said there’s a “sheer urgency of doing something substantial.” She encouraged the commission to “proceed with a willing suspension of disbelief” and take action soon because the situation downtown gets worse by the day.

Brudnicki said when he brings back a proposal for a site for the resource center he will also present to the commission signed letters from nonprofit organizations that intend to locate there and plans for how to support ongoing operations. He also plans to ask other local governments for support.

He backed off of a request included on the meeting’s agenda for the commission to earmark money for the project until there is more information.

Brudnicki said the city doesn’t have an option but to take action.

It is certainly our duty … to keep our citizens from being defrauded,” he said, and later provided examples of vagrants who make up stories or tell lies to evoke sympathy while panhandling. He also said there is a drain on law enforcement and health care resources because the problem isn’t being effectively addressed.

While commissioners indicated they support the mayor’s efforts, there was some discussion on what effectively addressing the issue would entail, including moving forward with both a law enforcement focus and creation of the Community Resource Center.

“I have the same temptation you do, and that’s fix it,” Commissioner John Kady said. The impulse, he said, is to run vagrants out of town, but there’s a danger of not thinking the project through.

“Blindly throwing money at the law enforcement side doesn’t make more sense than blindingly throwing money at the resource center side,” he said.

He said those involved have railed against vagrants, but the resource center discussed wouldn’t serve them.

Commissioner Kenneth Brown said he is open to the idea of the city building the Community Resource Center but was concerned that just building another building wouldn’t solve the problem because it might not result in any changes to the way things are downtown.

Brudnicki said having another place for the temporary homeless to go would allow the police to differentiate between them and vagrants and allow law enforcement to address vagrancy problems. There would be no reason for a homeless person to be downtown unless it’s for “ill begotten gains.”

Ms. Robinson hit the nail on the head. The rescue mission has expanded way past its original intent of a community based organization there for the purpose of helping those locals inn need get back on their feet. The management of the rescue mission have lost their ways and have become consumed by greed. The rescue HAS become BIG BUSINESS with millions of dollars floating through their organization. Why has the rescue mission management been the last party to the table when local government, police organizations and other activist groups have come together to find solutions to take care of our local homeless in a way that has less negative impact on the potential rejuvenation of downtown?

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