Rescue Mission wanting to create homeless facility for Port St. Joe Florida which has no documented cases of homeless….hmmmm

June 23, 2011

Port St. Joe city commissioners called for a brief timeout Tuesday night.

Commissioners, with a room full of residents wishing to speak about any plans for a county presence by the Panama City Rescue Mission, unanimously motioned to hold a workshop this coming Tuesday, June 25, to discuss the matter and hear from the public.

The workshop is scheduled for 5:30 p.m. ET in the commission meeting room at City Hall.

City manager Charlie Weston said he would have to contact officials at the Rescue Mission to ensure a representative would be there – a previous workshop on a proposal to establish a satellite facility in Gulf County was cancelled when Rescue Mission officials could not attend.

However, Commissioner Rex Buzzett said the city should not operate on the Rescue Mission’s schedule and Weston was requested to inform Mission officials that a workshop was being held if they wished to send a representative to present their case.

In particular, Port St. Joe residents object to the presence of an outreach office in the downtown business district on Reid Avenue and what they understand are efforts to broaden the scope and reach of the office and bring a satellite shelter to the county.

Christine McElroy and Jim Norton noted that new Panama City Mayor Greg Brudnicki has a stated goal of moving the Rescue Mission out of downtown Panama City.

McElroy further noted crime statistics linked to residents at the Mission and the efforts of the Mission to expand its Bethel Village facility in Springfield, which is being met with resistance from Springfield city officials.

“This is the wrong place for a right-intended entity,” Norton said.

Jay Rish said the city and community have always met the needs to its most vulnerable, whether through churches or organizations such as the Care Closet and Junior Service League.

He said too much work had been undertaken in recent years to upgrade the look of downtown to allow an office that may attract the homeless from outside the county.

“I’m concerned we might become a magnet for a growing problem we do not have,” Rish said. “Reid Avenue is not the proper venue for what is proposed.”

Commissioners were skeptical of the Rescue Mission’s efforts when Rev. Billy Fox, the CEO of the mission, appeared before the board June 7.

Buzzett said he could not support any presence in the business district and commissioners also questioned the extent of any problem with the homeless in Gulf County.

The current system of transporting the homeless to the Rescue Mission seemed to be working and Police Chief David Barnes said his department deals with a homeless person, on average, every three to four months.

In addition, commissioners voiced concerns about the varying information about the Rescue Mission plans.

“Reverend Fox, when he was here, was very sketchy about the details,” said Commissioner Lorinda Gingell.

Fox could not provide information concerning community meetings about Rescue Mission plans and there was confusion about the current membership of a group that contacted the Rescue Mission for insight on how to help any homeless in the county.

As expressed in a letter to the editor in the June 23 edition of The Star, at least one of the original committee members has left due to philosophical differences regarding the approach Fox was taking.

Mayor Mel Magidson said the city has not been asked to take action and can’t prevent the Mission from renting office space downtown. As for a shelter on Reid Avenue, he said city zoning regulations would prohibit such a move.

Several residents, however, noted that Mission board members were already exploring other locations for a possible shelter.

Magidson noted that he was one of many county residents who contribute to the Rescue Mission and he doubted the mission would want to antagonize those contributors by establishing a facility the community did not want.

He also noted that if there is not a homeless problem in the county – and no quantifiable numbers have been gathered by Fox – the Rescue Mission could hardly afford to expend resources where their services were not needed.

And he said “I will not allow that to happen” to questions about a reversal of progress in beautifying and enhancing the aesthetics of downtown.

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