Panama City officials have been aggressively working to clean-up the homeless issue in the downtown area for a little less than 2 years. Some of the measures already in place are making an impact and the controversial community resource center planned for the Bayou George area is the next step.
When Greg Brudnicki ran for mayor in 2011, homelessness and vagrancy in downtown Panama City was a key issue.
"It was roaming around, people trespassing on property to people laying on our property to finding people passed out when we come to open our businesses in the morning," said Panama City Police Department Sgt. Chris Edmundson.
A year and a half later, the situation has improved, but Brudnicki says it's not enough.
"I hear from people all the time, 'oh, gosh, you're doing a great job, but when are we gonna finish the job, '" said Greg Brudnicki, mayor of Panama City.
The biggest improvement so far was an anti-panhandling ordinance the city commission passed earlier this year.
"What we started doing is addressing those issues through municipal ordinances we have in place and also the state laws we can enforce," said Edmundson. "We’ve experienced a lot better partnership with the business owners down here and that's been one of the biggest keys in resolving some of the issues in the downtown, downtown north area."
Panama City police created a community services unit and created a higher profile at the downtown Panama City Police sub station. Brudnicki and the commission believe the community resource center is the next important step towards a solution. But residents in the Bayou George area, along with some Bay County commissioners, even the Panama City Rescue Mission are less than excited about the project. This week, the mission's board voted against supporting the project, saying Bayou George is an unacceptable location, but Brudnicki disagrees.
"Once you get there if you have all the services available that you need to transition, you will stay there long enough to transition, not live there forever,” he said.
The proposed community resource center will be housed on 70 acres of land with resources for health, finding work, and other social services. Plans also include housing for veterans and families.