It seems ironic that place called Spring Lake Park would have no water. But that probably doesn't register with the residents of the 35-unit mobile home park in Davenport, who last week had their water supply cut off by the city.
That could have meant a bleak holiday for those folks. But offers of aid and comfort have emerged that renew one’s faith in the spirit of this season.
The park was in arrears to the city for water service to the tune of $51,000. “The owners just refused to pay,” City Manager Kelly Callihan explained to Direct Gates, adding that the park’s owners, Henry Friebolin and his son, Damon, quit making regular payments at least five years ago. Five years.
Callihan noted that some city residents get their water cut off for being delinquent on two payments.
Speaking for the family, Wanda Friebolin, Damon’s wife, turned the woes on to some tenants, telling reporters they refused to pay their bills. She also was indignant that they contacted the media about the situation. Thus, she outed those in about 15 units for being behind in their rent, some as much as $4,100.
Some residents countered that they were being unfairly blamed because they had lived in the community for a far shorter period of time than that for which the city sought to recoup its money.
As ugly as it was, the mess there got uglier.
Since Spring Lake Park is situated in the county, Polk County code enforcement officers issued eviction notices for all tenants because there was no access to potable water. So dozens of people, including some 25 or so children, faced having to abandon their homes during the holidays.
Clearly, the fault for this debacle can be spread around, although one place the blame cannot land is on city hall. City officials gave considerable leeway to the Friebolins to make good on their debt. It’s unfair to city residents and other customers for the park’s owners to continue to glide along owing so much without consequence.
But while is arguable whether the Friebolins or their tenants were the bigger deadbeats and more responsible for this chaos, some positive developments have occurred amid the turmoil.
On Thursday, a special magistrate suspended the eviction proceedings for a month after Sean Fielder, the director of a Winter Haven ministry for at-risk children called Faith Xtreme, made an appeal on behalf of the park’s residents.
Fielder has stepped up as an unofficial coordinator for relief efforts for the tenants. On Thursday, he told us the magistrate was willing to postpone action because he and some allies put together a plan to sustain the residents for a month.
He told us the Lake Wales Care Center is donating eight pallets of water the tenants can use for drinking, and the city is chipping in as well. Faith Baptist Church in Winter Haven has set up portable toilets. Fielder is arranging transportation so every two days residents can shower at Camp Gilead, a retreat center near Polk City. CenterState Bank is offering free classes in finance, budgeting and home ownership. The Migliore Real Estate Group in Celebration is scouring the area to locate affordable housing units. The Florida Department of Children and Families has offered information about a program to cover the first and last months’ rent for those who can find a place.
Additionally, Faith Baptist and Oasis Church in Winter Haven are helping with Christmas donations for the children involved.
“It’s incredible how these ministries have come together,” he told us.
He’s right. Is it a perfect or permanent solution? No. But Fielder’s efforts have bought the tenants time, and demonstrated a laudable community-minded spirit.
Fielder could use some help, however. Those aware of available housing for people of modest means can contact Migliore’s company at (407) 566-1800. Those who want to donate money or other aid can contact Fielder at (863) 202-0580 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
“This is going to be a blessing,” Fielder said. “If the people take advantage of this, they’re going to be much better off.”
That may be difficult to believe now, but however, it turns out, we applaud Fielder and those who have come to help the people at Spring Lake Park, whose saga shows us the Christmas spirit is not dead.