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Daytona's "Sweetheart Trail"

1/31/2020

PAT RICE: Encountering the homeless on Daytona’s “Sweetheart Trail”

[Pat Rice/News-Journal], Sunday, January 26, 2020

A couple weeks ago, I received an email from Roger Fulton, who said he writes about trails. He has a website: rogerfultonoutdoors.com.

Fulton gives a dual address of Port Orange and New York. He wrote that he recently traversed Daytona Beach’s “Sweetheart Trail,” which winds along the Halifax River shoreline downtown. He shared with me an email he sent afterwards to city spokeswoman, Susan Cerbone.

“I’m an outdoor writer of hiking, biking and kayaking books for Central Florida,” he wrote. “Yesterday I scouted out your Sweetheart Trail to try to include it in our biking inventory. Seriously disappointed.

“Great trail. But homeless everywhere. In the short mile and change encountered more than 25 homeless people either on the trail, in the adjacent parks and in the restrooms at each location.

“I was not accosted, but I was not at all comfortable on the trail or in the parks. Not good for tourism or local safety. So what should I tell my readers about your very nice trail?”

In a follow-up email to me, Fulton said he’d heard back from the city, but he declined to share specifics.

“But they were responsive,” he wrote.

I am not surprised that Fulton met homeless people on the Sweetheart Trail. I wrote a column about meeting numerous homeless people on the trail three years ago.

Still, seeing is believing. So last Sunday afternoon I took another walk along the trail. I started at The News-Journal Center on Beach Street, and walked south. It didn’t take long to meet people who identified themselves as homeless.

Two homeless people were on the wooden walkway beneath the International Speedway Boulevard bridge, eating sandwiches and organizing personal belongings in plastic bags.

Another pair sat on a short dock that juts out into the Halifax River on City Island.

Three others sat behind the bathrooms on City Island.

Two other homeless men with bicycles were parked in different places behind the library. In front of the library, two homeless men smoked cigarettes.

In all, I counted a dozen people who clearly were homeless or identified themselves as such. I spoke to a couple of them.

One homeless man sat on a park bench with an open roll of crackers next to him. He did not give me his name, and asked me if I had a card to identify myself. (I didn’t.) But he was friendly.

He said there are a couple reasons why homeless people congregate along the Sweetheart Trail, beyond that it’s legal and it’s a pleasant place to pass time. He said the downtown bus stop is a main point of access to affordable transportation, and various social services are located downtown.

I asked him about the new First Step Shelter. He said he wasn’t sure he’d want to go there. He knew about it, but had heard that there were various background steps someone would need to take to get into the shelter. He wondered about transportation between Daytona Beach and the shelter, which is several miles west of Interstate 95.

When we parted, he gave me a large flat rock painted purple, with the word “hope” painted in white.

Another man named Durk Tillman was seated in a wheelchair outside the library’s front door. Tillman has one leg. He said he receives a small benefits check once a month that isn’t enough for him to pay for an apartment and food. He said he had a roommate, but they had a falling out, and now he’s homeless.

Tillman said homeless people spend time at the library, which is safe, has books and internet service, and provides some protection from the elements. He also wasn’t sure the new homeless shelter would be a good fit for him, and added the distance to the new homeless shelter was an impediment.

The Sweetheart Trail is nice. But don’t be surprised if you meet some homeless people along the trail. The ones I met were nice, too.

They are examples of the intractability of homelessness, even in a city that’s trying to help, and in an economy that’s booming, but mostly booming for those at the top.

Rice is The News-Journal’s editor. His email is Pat.Rice@news-jrnl.com.


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