In a press conference and action forum held March 14th, Catholic Charities of Central Florida was named by F.A.I.T.H. as the lead agency on a homelessness relief project that has been 4 years in the making. F.A.I.T.H (Fighting Against Injustice Towards Harmony), an interfaith congregation-based community organization group comprised of 32 houses of worship, has led the charge, rallying the community and raising funds for the first step in their comprehensive homelessness plan, an emergency shelter in Volusia County.
“We are thrilled that Catholic Charities has stepped up to take the lead, so that we can finally get started on the project. We want to remake the community to be a hopeful place of peace and justice, where no one needs to live on the streets,” said Father Phil Egitto, pastor of Our Lady of Lourdes Parish in Daytona Beach, whose parish is a member of F.A.I.T.H.
The project, called Safe Harbor Volusia, is an effort to stem homelessness in the county, bringing multiple agencies together for comprehensive services to people without permanent shelter.
“The problem is huge,” remarked Reverend Mark Geallis of Halifax Urban Ministries and a F.A.I.T.H. member. “There were 1,325 chronically homeless people identified in January, but the real number may be as high as 5,000,” Geallis explained.
Reverend Willamarie Smith of St. Timothy Episcopal Church agreed saying, “It is really hard for them to be out there. I have a place to live but so many don’t. We can get this all done in one place without people wandering all over the city to get what they need.”
The emergency shelter will be a place where the homeless can come day or night to find a safe place to stay and have access to services such as counseling and medical assistance.
“It would be one portion of a continuum of care, that would include overarching case management, providing services, identifying needs, addressing issues to get them stable,” Catholic Charities executive director Gary Tester said.
Accepting a $22,000 check for the project from F.A.I.T.H., Daytona Mayor Derrick Henry described, “The shelter is a critical aspect of full services, to provide the tools to graduate from their condition, to housing and a high quality of life.”
At the action forum following the press conference, elected leaders from various Volusia County cities were invited to pledge their financial support to the shelter. The City of Daytona has already pledged $400,000 to the project and is hoping other cities will follow suit by committing additional funds to the project.
“This funding source will allow Catholic Charities of Central Florida to move forward. It is a good starting point,” said Mayor Henry.
“As the lead agency, we are willing to tell the story and raise money, and it is a great opportunity to collaborate. We have the management capacity to pull the services together,” said Tester of his agency’s role in the project. Continuing he added, “What we are called to do is to house the homeless. The Gospel compels us, as a corporal work of Mercy to do so, and it strikes at the heart of our mission, it is what we do.”