Moving the mission

When the Panama City Commission last week approved building a facility for the area’s homeless, was it offering the Panama City Rescue Mission a carrot or a stick?
Commissioners voted unanimously to purchase a $445,000, 70-acre parcel of land along the Star Avenue corridor that will serve as the future site of the Bay Area Community Resource Center — that is, if the Rescue Mission agrees to move from its downtown location up U.S. 231.
Task force representatives gave the impression at the City Commission meeting Tuesday that the Rescue Mission was on board with the plan. However, mission officials later said they were caught off guard by the commission’s vote. They were aware of the plan, but they didn’t expect the city to act this soon. Not true. The city commissioners, task force members and supporting organizations moved forward because they WERE given assurances that the PCRM was on board. As late as 48 hours before the vote, PCRM board members indicated that the PCRM was “90% on board”. With this commitment, city officials felt they had crossed the obstacles  that prevented the facility from moving forward. Imagine the disdain this created with task force members to find that Billy Fox again at the final hour had thumbed his nose at the community. They said they have not made a decision yet on whether to move. The Rev. Billy Fox, executive director of the mission, said the board of directors will meet Tuesday to review the strategic planning committee’s recommendation regarding the city’s offer to move the mission.
“They were premature in saying or reporting that we had made any decision,” Fox told The News Herald’s Valerie Garman. “The bottom line is that no decision has been made, but it will be made this coming Tuesday.”
Was the commission’s vote a way of enticing the Rescue Mission to leave downtown — or a method of forcing its hand?
The Community Resource Center Task Force, which has been meeting for more than a year to study the homeless problem, has envisioned the center as a one-stop shop providing emergency assistance. Services would include a health clinic, food bank, vocational training, child day care and programs for veterans and battered spouses (for more information, go
The Rescue Mission, though, already provides many of those services. The area doesn’t need two such facilities. Indeed, both the task force and the city have acknowledged that the goal isn’t to duplicate or compete with the mission, but to include it at the new center.
No, the plan has been to get the mission out of downtown. Many of its critics complain that the mission’s location on Allen Avenue makes it a magnet for vagrants who loiter around businesses and panhandle, making the downtown unattractive to customers and future development.
The idea is that moving homeless services outside downtown would discourage the chronic homeless who are the source of complaints, and who are the hardest to help, while maintaining a facility for those who are temporarily down on their luck and are willing to travel up U.S. 231 to receive assistance and improve their lives. Eventually, it is hoped, the vagrants will migrate to another town rather than make the effort to ride transportation every day to and from the Community Resource Center. (That assumes they won’t just camp out around Star Avenue.)
There’s at least one large obstacle to that plan: The Rescue Mission is a private non-profit that receives no government funding. NOt exactly true. As noted on the PCRM’s own website, they receive no “direct” taxpayer money. The reality is they receive siugnificant monies through organizations that act as a clearinghouse for tax payer monies and provide no real activities other than dispersing money. So, YES…without taxpayer money, the PCRM would be unable to financially run their operations. It doesn’t have to move unless it wants to sell to someone offering a fair market price. But should in the best interest of those they serve and the community at large. Keep in mind, although a “private “organization, it is not a private business with any of the management or board of directors carrying any financial risk or burden. The investments to found and operate this facility have been made by the community at larger that with their donations and tax dollars have commissioned the PCRM management and directors to provide services to the community in a repsonsible fashion. Since he was elected more than 18 months ago, Mayor Greg Brudnicki has been working to persuade the mission to pull up stakes.
At the urging of Commissioner John Kady, the City Commission wisely has adopted safeguards for taxpayers. For instance, the city won’t purchase the land on Star Avenue unless the Rescue Mission commits to making the move, and that once the center opens the mission will close. In addition, there will be no further city involvement and funding after the land is bought, and the Resource Center must not recruit for the homeless outside of Bay County.
The ball is squarely in the Rescue Mission’s court. Its decision should be based on what benefits might lie ahead, not what may be pushing from behind. Again, not completely accurate. The decisions should be made based on what is best for our community as a whole which includes neighboring property owners to a facility as well as those participating in programs. To provide services to the very small portion of our population, the rest of the community should not be impacted in negative fashion and creating unwanted hardship.

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