My faith in humanity has been semi-restored over the past month by the gracious outpouring of support that has come from Citrus County residents wanting to help build a new animal shelter.
Hundreds of contributions have been sent to the Chronicle and/or placed in the GoFundMe shelter account. The message is clear; the majority of residents want the county to build the new shelter. So far, more than $150,000 has been generated for the project.
These contributions came after one county commissioner publicly said animal lovers would never contribute to the project.
While more than 80% of county residents who participated in a recent online poll said they favored building a new shelter, some are opposed to the idea.
The most compelling complaint is that we have plenty of homeless people in our county and we are not doing enough to help them. Others have argued we need to do more to fight the drug problem and deal with mental health issues in Citrus County.
All of those criticisms are true, we do have homeless people with needs and they should be helped. Drug abuse is at an epidemic level. Nevertheless, I would contend this is not an "either/or" debate.
Trust me on this one, if our county commission voted against replacing the crumbling animal shelter in Inverness because of the cost, those dollars saved would not be moved to help the homeless or create programs to help drug-dependent citizens.
That’s not how government works.
All of the issues need to be addressed by the county commission. It’s not one or the other.
Each of the issues is deadly serious.
We do not do enough for those who are homeless. Most of the services offered are really done by nonprofit agencies trying to fill the void. Ginger West and Family Resource Center out of Hernando and the Salvation Army in Lecanto both play a critical function in providing help to the homeless.
The Community Food Bank works hard to get food to the homeless. The Mission in Citrus provides some help. Habitat for Humanity tries to provide housing assistance.
Each of those nonprofits fills a little of the void, but we still have hundreds of people living in the woods. We have families living out of their cars. In addition, we have way too many families living in substandard housing.
The drug epidemic is far worse and much more difficult to address. The use of meth and heroin is at record levels and feeds into the homeless and mental health issues we have. Check out the daily arrest report in the Chronicle and look at the booking photos produced by the sheriff’s office.
You don’t even have to read the details of the arrests; you can just look at the photos and tell who is using meth. Somehow, the drug users think they are fooling the rest of us and fitting in. They are not, and it is frightening.
We do a poor job of dealing with the homeless problem and a terrible job of dealing with drug abuse. Arresting drug addicts and throwing them in the county jail might feel like an answer, but all that does is create an extra cost for the taxpayer (to run the jail) and kick the problem down the road.
When the drug addict is released next week, they are still a drug addict. Crime, homelessness, spouse abuse and chronic unemployment all are tied back to drug abuse.
But here’s the deal — just because we do a terrible job of dealing with the homeless and those addicted to drugs does not mean we should simply ignore the needs of animals in our community.
The issue of stray dogs and cats is a public responsibility of county government. That’s the way it works in Florida. We need to fulfill that responsibility in an efficient and professional manner.
We have a good staff at animal control and a dilapidated facility. The public financial support being generated is a direct message to county government — be a leader and deal with the problem identified by the people who elected you. (Kudos to newly elected county commissioner Ruthie Schlabach for taking the leadership on this project.)
At the same time, we desperately need to see more leadership on the homeless issue and the drug abuse crisis.
The justification that we should do nothing on any of our problems because we cannot agree on the prioritization is exactly what “do nothing” elected officials want us to believe. Here’s a bold idea: Let’s work on all of the priorities and make this community a better place to live.
Gerry Mulligan is the publisher of the Chronicle. Email him at email@example.com.