Mark Geallis has a vision.
For the past 12 years, he has been working to find solutions to end homelessness in Volusia County. It's a mission that led him to serve as the executive director of Halifax Urban Ministries for three years before becoming First Step Shelter's first executive director prior to the shelter's opening.
Now, he is working toward an initiative he hopes will help those homeless individuals who simply need an affordable place to live: a tiny home RV village.
Homeless 2 Home residents would pay an income-based rent of between $250 and 400 monthly, according to the initiative's website. Geallis has established it as a nonprofit and states the plan is to acquire "properly zoned land or acreage away from densely populated residential areas" to eventually support a minimum of 30 units at the start, with the opportunity to grow up to 150 units. He aims for the village to be funded 100% by donors, foundations and the revenue generated by the residents themselves.
“Homeless 2 Home wants to create a village where people of extreme low income can live with dignity, stay permanently if they choose and form a sense of community," Geallis said.
The Ormond Beach Observer recently spoke with Geallis about Homeless 2 Home, and here is what he had to say about his vision.
Q: What motivated you to begin Homeless 2 Home now?
A: That’s kind of a funny story. I thought I retired last year between starting my own social security and COVID, I stayed home for a year. Years ago, I was a website developer so I started making some websites, and I had the ‘Homeless 2 Home’ domain name purchased a couple of years ago and never did anything with it. I threw up a website with my vision, and it got some traction on Facebook and got some media to begin calling, and it’s kind of taken a life of its own in the last month.
Q: Why choose tiny homes and RVs for the village?
A: As I was taking a road trip in between homeless service positions three or four years ago, I visited Community First Village in Austin, Texas. It is a wonderful model of what I’d love to do. They had about 200 residents at that time. They’re now in Phase II and growing to 400 residents, but they have a mix of tiny homes and RVs. They have many shared community things like a big cookout area, a small outdoor theater where they watch movies together. They have a general store where some of their residents can work and others sell their art and things like that… I just loved what I saw there. It was faith-based, and the people that put it together have done it without government funding, which also attracts me.
Before [First Step Shelter], I worked for a purely faith-based organization, and that’s more of the way to follow my heart. I think when government gets involved too deeply, it just mucks things up and slow things down and too many strange regulations come into place which stifle creativity and innovation, and my idea is certainly innovative for the poor and homeless.
Q: Do you have a specific area or city you would like to build the village?
A: I have been thinking that, even though there’s 16 municipalities in Volusia County, I would look for some unincorporated area of Volusia County that is not in a municipality, so that I don’t have to go through the regulation and registration with both the county and a municipal government. But, some people have suggested, and some people from local municipalities have reached out and said they would like to talk. So maybe Daytona Beach is a possibility.
I hope to find a parcel of land that’s either in a more industrial area, blighted area, or out in the country so to speak that will not rile up the neighbors and can be embraced by the neighbors, hopefully.
Q: What objections from citizens are you expecting to have to address?
A: The objections are going to be [about] where it’s located, and I hope to find a location that will minimize the objections. The other objection that we always have when dealing with the poor and homeless in our community is people who say things like, ‘Oh they should just get a job. Why should I help them? I work hard myself.’ And those objections really aren’t valid in this project.
Q: How has your nonprofit background, and your experience as First Step Shelter’s first executive director, prepared you to take on this initiative?
A: Very well, I think. It’s let me understand the objections of the negative people. It’s showed me how to deal with government and high-level donors, and most of all, it’s shown me the different gaps in services throughout the community that become causes of homelessness and continue to keep people homeless, whereas I know this is a big piece of the puzzle to end homelessness for a select group of people.
Q: When did you realize that your heart was in helping the homeless community?
A: I came back from a mission trip to Haiti, and I was on the beach watching this huge fireworks display that I had read cost us $70,000-$80,000 as a community, and that same day I had driven along Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune Boulevard and through some of the rougher neighborhoods in town, and God just laid it on my heart that my mission field was going to be right here in my own backyard. That as a community, our priorities were kind of messed up. Taking care of fireworks but not taking care of the poor among us, and that’s the day I decided to focus on this. I started my own little outreach feeding the poor and homeless at City Island Park. It was illegal. I am of strong faith, and one day, the police came and busted our little homeless initiative that me and another friend, Jeremy, did down there in the park each week.
The next day, Halifax Urban Ministries called me and asked me if I wanted to come onboard to their staff. I took that as affirmation from God and direction that I no longer had to be an outlaw serving the homeless folks, but I could get onboard with a thriving ministry and do things within the law.
Q: What is one thing that you want the public to know about Homeless 2 Home?
A: I want them to know that this is something that is desperately needed in our community, not just for homeless people who have economic issues, but for elderly people and disabled people. People over 50 are the fastest growing segment of the homeless population over the last two years, and I think COVID is only going to increase those numbers. I call it the silver tsunami. I think we have thousands of homeless elderly people about to hit the streets, and I believe that Homeless 2 Home ...is going to be a model for the future to do similar communities right here in Volusia and Flagler County, and hopefully, communities like this will spring up all across the nation.
To learn more, visit homeless2home.org