A “move the mission” exclusive….

Mr. Brian Rust, candidate for Bay County, Fla. Commissioner District 5

Mr. Brian Rust, candidate for Bay County, Fla. Commissioner district 5 has been kind enough to offer an exclusive commentary to “move the mission”on the homeless and vagrant issues affecting our community and his vision on what we can do to make downtown an exciting place to work, live, shop and visit. We thank Mr. Rust for his comments and his commitment to Bay County.

“First I want nothing more then downtown Panama City to be a beautiful thriving, successful water front community. There are multiple issues when it comes to our homeless here in Bay County. I believe we have three types of homeless. 1) is the people who’s fortune has turned against them, they may have lost their jobs or for some financial reason have lost their home. These are people that can be helped to help themselves, but in order for this to happen we need to strengthen our economic development here in Bay County. We need to open more opportunities for business to start, grow and move here to Bay and create jobs. The solution of having jobs is a solution that can and will fix many of the issues we face. 2) another type of homeless we have are those who have a mental disability who really needs society’s help. 3) The final type are the vagrants and panhandlers and those who want to live that life style , those are the people that we have the problem with. And the solution for dealing with them is not as simple as closing or making the Mission move. Moving the mission is only going to move the problem, and building a nicer facility is only going to attract more of that type of homeless to our area which will only increase the problem. We need to find a way to discourage that type of homeless and encourage them to find refuge somewhere else. I think this is not going to be an easy thing to do, simply because there are many opinions of how to treat those people. We all have constitutional rights and that does include the homeless so finding a way to get them to be as uncomfortable as possible that they will not want to live here and not violate their rights or put the rights of the rest of us in jeopardy is going to be our biggest challenge. While I am not a fan of panels and committees I think that we do need to come up with ideas and come to an agreement among the community to solve this. Bottom line, we need to do something about the problems that are being caused by some of the homeless and this is not going to be easy but I do hope that those currently in charge with the problem with do what is right. If I was in the position to make a decision, mine would be to crackdown within law on those causing issues and make life uncomfortable for them. And this is something that the mission will also need to take part in, they can not just open the door to those people that want to live the homeless life style and live off the system and create problems. The mission does some great work for those that really need it, but they need to help the community as well by turning the vagrants and panhandlers away and/or limit the amount of time they may stay. I would also suggest a partnership with the BCSO where they will share a data base of some kind with the Mission for those that have been arrested for their vagrant behaviors or other laws they may have broken to ensure the they don’t have a refuge here in Bay County. This is not going to be an easy problem to fix but if we work together on this we can find a solution.”

Mr. Rust has approached the issue of vagrancy and homelessness with the type of critical thinking that all parties involved must prescribe to. What Mr. Rust will find though as he delves more into the issue and is exposed to all the components of the problem is that the field of play is not a level one. Those in the downtown community that have been most affected by the problems of vagrancy and are the most vocal in removal of the problem are the same ones who have reached out to homeless organizations, local government and police departments attempting to offer support to those truly in need while controlling the damaging effects of an every growing vagrant problem. When issues are presented to the rescue mission, they deny the existence of the problems. A quick peek at the rescue’s website under the “about us tab” confirms that they are unwilling to acknowledge the problem. (see the “why the rescue mission management will never be part of the solution” posting below). How can solutions be offered and implemented when not all parties are willing to even say there is a problem much less the cause or long term impact? 

Mr. Billy Fox has repeatedly announced that they are not moving unless someone pays them ten million dollars. The property by the most generous of estimates is valued at less than two million dollars. Mr. Fox is playing games. His extortionist mindset is one that would make a mafia boss quite proud. Why are Mr. Fox and the board of the directors almost non existent in discussions that Mayor Brudnicki has initiated to create a facility that would allow the community to serve those truly in need? Mr Rust is dead on correct when he says there are different groups of people that have different needs that have all been bunched together under one heading. Many would argue that this is by design. It serves the rescue mission well to paint the picture of a young child, whos parents have lost their jobs and their home as being the”homeless” that they serve. Anyone would feel compassion for the person who has found themselves in such a situation. Unfortunately, the rescue mission harbors the negative element that Mr. Rust has described as individuals that need to move from downtown. One need only look at the Sheriffs report , police departments report and the ongoing list of arrest (see our “top ten” post)at the mission address to get a much more focused view of what is really going on at the mission. Because of this “smoke and mirror” campaign the mission has created, those of us who are interested in ridding the community of professional panhandlers and habitual vagrants, get branded as being “insensitive” or “uncaring” because we want to run off those” poor homeless” people. In a recent media channels online forum a local pastor even went so far as to announce a “boycott of all downtown businesses that did not support the activities of the rescue mission”.

Moving the mission IS a major component to solving the problem. It does in fact “move the problem” but that is the point. If one has taken on the challenge of tackling a problem the goal should be (a) lower the severity of the problem and (b) lower the impact of said problem. This is basic problem solving 101. A facility that has more operation input from BCSO and other entities allows us as a community to operate a facility that helps those in needs  but do it in a way that satisfies a set of community standards. As it is now the rescue mission can operate with reckless abandon as a private, non-profit organization. With the input from multiple organizations, the severity of our problem would in fact diminish. Those individuals that are just interested in scamming the system will not be allowed to participate in the facility. Moving the mission away from a commercial and retail area allows for “lowering the impact”.  A more rural setting such as the Sheriffs boys farm program would allow for services to be provided without impacting neighboring businesses and property owners. Additional advantages of such a location would allow those who really want help to be in a setting without distractions of other vagrants that have accumulated just outside the walls of the rescue mission facility. 

We wish Mr. Rust much success in his campaign and encourage him to take a deep look at all the details of this issue. Go downtown and talk to local business people about the effects of the vagrancy problem. Knock on the doors of residence that live in close proximity of the rescue. Listen to their stories and concerns. Look past the facade that rescue mission management has pasted itself up as a “Christian organization helping the homeless”. Mr. Rust, the problem is as you have concluded quite challenging to solve. It will require smart people who care about our community as a whole to come up with solutions and fix the problems. Those of us downtown want what Mr.Rust has described in his opening staement. We want a beautiful, thriving successful waterfront community. We want a place that we as a community can be proud of and leave as a legacy to our children.

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1 Comment

  1. Regarding homeless issues in the Panama City area. The Green Party platform under Social Justice, Housing and Homelessness states:
    We suppport measures to prevent homelessness before it occurs through raising the income floor for the working poor, ensuring living-wage jobs, affordable housing and health care including mental health and substance-abuse services.
    We support strategies to move people rapidly into stable living arrangements and providing an array of necessary services to address the varied aspects of homelessness.
    We call for the repeal of laws that criminalize homelessness, for the inclusion of homeless people in the decision-making about solutions, education for the homeless about voting rights and increased voter registration. We support providing the resources to monitor discharges from hospitals, jails and foster care to prevent discharging people to the street. We support increased job opportunities for the homeless who are able to work.


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