As Violence Continues At Jacksonville’s Eureka Gardens, Area Counseling Program Gets State Funds

May 29, 2018

For the third year in a row a counseling project spearheaded by Jacksonville’s Wayman Ministries will get state funding. State Sen. Audrey Gibson, D-Jacksonville, helped shepherd the $150,000 appropriation that Pastor Mark Griffin said will go to counselor salaries and other supplies.

The counselors work at Griffin’s church-affiliated Wayman Community Development Corporation, which provides faith-based family services to the kids who go to his charter school, Wayman Academy of the Arts. Griffin said many of the kids that go to his school have witnessed traumatic events like shootings while living in high-crime areas and that’s why he created the At-Risk Services Program within the CDC.

Before they can learn, Griffin said, they need help recovering from their trauma.

“Over the years we’ve had children that have witnessed the murder of their parents, they’ve been so subjected to so much crime and violence — children that instinctively know when they hear a gunshot, to jump in the bath tub — things a lot of children in a lot of our communities in Jacksonville don’t have to deal with. But these children they have to deal with that before they learn math, and reading and writing,” he said. “So this program helps to uncouple a lot of that in their minds.”

In total, the Wayman CDC has received just under $450,000 in state funding for programs like this one. Griffin said it’s especially important in a Jacksonville zip code that experiences a disproportionate amount of crime.

“We’ve been working for years here in Jacksonville, actually it’s been over 11, 12 years — 2006 and 2007, when we really had a high murder rate and we’re glad to see some of the progress that has been made, but we have to keep our focus on the fact, as these recent statistics show, crime is beginning to rise back up,” he said. “We’re glad of the fact that here in Eureka Gardens, we still have issues, but not like we had 10 years ago. But again, we can’t take our eye off the ball.”

Last week, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement released the latest crime statistics, showing Duval County saw an overall 1.3 percentage point drop in crime. Meanwhile, the number of certain violent crimes ticked up, including murder, rape and assault.

Just across the street from Wayman, at the low-income housing complex Eureka Gardens Apartments, 

Sen. Audrey Gibson (left) and Monalisa Arnold (right).
Credit Ryan Benk / WJCT News

Monalisa Arnold told Sen. Gibson that although the troubled apartment complex is under new management, she still doesn’t feel safe. The change is too slow.

“It can’t be working with all these shootings still going on and [we’ve] got no security guards like this here. Three or four shootouts in one day like that, here? Ain’t got no remorse for the church, ain’t got no remorse for the grown people, the old people, nobody,” she said.

Last week a man was shot in both legs at the Eureka Gardens complex, reported our partner News4Jax. Conflicting police reports cite a drive-by shooting or that it occurred after an argument between a large crowd of people.

The Ohio-based Millennia Group was buying a portfolio of properties, including Eureka Gardens, in February 2017 after its previous owner, Global Ministries Foundation came under scrutiny following multiple media investigations that exposed dilapidated conditions like exposed wires, leaking gas lines and crumbling staircases at the complex overseen by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

The apartment complex’s name is set to change, along with planned renovations being considered for city funds totaling around $22,000 for each unit, our Daily Record news partner reported news partner reported.

Building permit applications list the owner as GMF Jacksonville Pool LLC, while plans identify the owner as Millennia Housing Development Ltd.

HUD Secretary Ben Carson toured the complex in April of last year, where Millennia spokesman Jeff Crossman promised his company would renovate every apartment should his company purchase the property.

“This is going to be gutted and refinished,” he said.

At the time, Millennia was just the property manager, not the owner.

A year after the visit, residents are still complaining of poor conditions and a prevalence of violent crime. State Sen. Gibson sent a letter to U.S. Congressman Al Lawson and Sen. Bill Nelson asking the two to sponsor legislation mandating HUD negotiate in housing contracts that affordable housing complexes located in high-crime areas provide security or that the policy be created as a rule within the agency.

Furthermore, she said she doesn’t believe Millennia should’ve promised so much so fast.

“I understand there’s anxiousness to do it all at one time and they should never have promised the residents that it would happen that way, but I think there should be some system of determining which apartments are in, if you will, priority disrepair and then make sure they’re communicating with all the other residents in the community,” she said.

Gibson said she will also be reaching out to Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Florida.

A third of Wayman’s charter school students live in Eureka Gardens.