THE NEW HOMELESS SERVICES CENTER ON 39TH AVENUE
I have postponed writing this newsletter until we could get some clarity on what is going to happen after the May 1 opening of Grace Market Place (also called the Empowerment Center) and what this is going to mean for the homeless people and the grassroots providers. Yesterday the downtown meal providers met with Theresa Lowe and Jon DeCarmine, who will be running the Center, and were given the big picture. It is a fluid situation, with a lot of variables and some unknowns at this point. I’m going to describe the upcoming plans as best I can. Ultimately, the center will provide two meals a day for 200 or more people, restrooms, showers, washers and dryers, and emergency shelter (in barracks). Other plans include (but are not limited to) educational and job opportunities, case management, church services, health care, camping spaces, and long-term supportive housing. Right now, a good deal of work needs to go into getting buildings and facilities renovated, finding additional funding sources (grant writing, fund raising), and bringing in both volunteers and employees, as the center is seriously under-funded and understaffed for all that it needs to do. The city will be providing the center with 2000 one-year bus passes to give to the homeless people.
Grassroots providers, such as the Home Van, are invited to move our services out to the new center. Most of us will not be moving out there immediately, because a lot of our folks are going to still be homeless in the downtown area. We will be serving our food where the people are, as we must, and will also be educating them and informing them on the possibilities of the new center. We can do this with a whole heart because I don’t think you could find two better people than Theresa and Jon to manage this project. They know and understand the people they will be serving, have vast experience in navigating the bureaucracy, and are hard, hard workers.
There is a certain urgency in this effort to talk to homeless people about the center and encourage them to give it a try, since a mass eviction of Tent City is going to happen in May. One and possibly both of the people who own the Tent City land are planning to put their tracts up for sale. Gainesville police officers are encouraging the displaced folks to move out to the wooded areas near the new center. At this point, I’d like to thank the Gainesville Police Department, and especially Lieutenant Brian Helmerson and the men and women under his command, for all their help and kindness to the tent city residents and the folks who sleep downtown. They are required to enforce the laws, some of which are not fair to homeless people, and that can create a hostile duality between homeless people and law enforcement. These officers have, through patience and many acts of kindness, through taking responsibility for the safety and wellbeing of homeless people in every way they possibly can, over come this barrier. They are out in the woods and downtown talking to people, educating them, giving them encouragement, seven days a week. Without their assistance this whole process would be much more difficult.
I am looking forward to the shelter aspect of this new center. Every week we come across people who are trapped in grim, unbearable circumstances – Molly, an elderly woman with severe arthritis who spent the winter living in an abandoned house; Jake, a man in late middle age who is biking back and forth from his tent to Shands to receive radiation and chemotherapy for his second bout of cancer; Amy, a pregnant woman who has been sexually assaulted on the streets; Milton, a young man in a wheelchair who is hooked up to various medical appliances. Ye Gods and Little Fishes how long is this nightmare going to go on! I almost live for the day we can find such a person and drive them up to the Grace Market Place for a hot meal, a shower, clean clothes, and a warm, dry bed to sleep in.
The whole Gainesville community needs to get behind this new center, participating in all possible ways – volunteering, donating, organizing fund raisers, planting gardens, painting murals, cooking, working one-on-one with homeless folks, holding church services, bringing in recreational opportunities – horseshoes, bingo, cards, books for the library – the possibilities are endless. The Alachua County Coalition for the Homeless and Hungry have a website people can access to get updates and contact information.
TENTS ‘n TARPS – BOOKS ‘n BUG SPRAY – SOAP ‘n SHAMPOO
That’s what we need. Summer is on the way and bug spray is more important to quality of life than almost anything else. Many people spend the long, light summer evenings reading. In the heat of summer, the call for personal hygiene products gets pretty intense, and we are running low.
I will be keeping this list updated on the progress and needs of Grace Market Place, as they arise.
Blessings on all of you!
The Home Van needs tents, tarps, bottled water, insect repellant, Vienna sausages, creamy peanut butter, jelly, candles, white tube socks, batteries, and games. Call 352-372-4825 to arrange for drop off. Financial donations to the Home Van should be in the form of checks made out to Citizens for Social Justice, Inc., earmarked for the Home Van, and mailed to 307 SE 6th Street, Gainesville, FL 32601, or can be made online at http://homevan.blogspot.com/
THE HOMEVAN IS A PROJECT OF CITIZENS FOR SOCIAL JUSTICE, INC. (FDACSREGISTRATION #CH35643). A COPY OF THE OFFICIAL REGISTRATION AND FINANCIAL INFORMATION MAY BE OBTAINED FROM THE DIVISION OF CONSUMER SERVICES BY CALLING TOLL-FREE (800-435-7352) WITHIN THE STATE.REGISTRATION DOES NOT IMPLY ENDORSEMENT, APPROVAL, OR RECOMMENDATION BY THE STATE.