JULY WAS THE CRUELEST MONTH
This is going to be a tough newsletter to write, but enough time has passed that I must let our extended Home Van family know what’s been going on.
July started out on a high note. The residents of Tent City had been successfully moved, with the help of Occupy Gainesville, Home Van volunteers, and other groups and individuals in the community – a few to the Williston Road Community but many out to the woods near Grace Market Place. The Home Van’s tent drive was going well and we were working with the people who had been living for so long in and around the Bo Diddley Plaza – telling them that now there was a safe harbor – a place where they could establish camp sites and be within an easy walk of water, food, and many other amenities. The people who were already living near Grace Market Place were coming back with glowing reports - of delicious food cooked by church women, an air conditioned room where they could get respite from the heat and watch a movie on a large-screen TV (some of them had not seen a movie in years), volunteer opportunities, church services in the chapel on Sunday. Every Thursday we would find fewer people living on the pavement downtown.
We were completely confident in our belief that the woods around Grace, which are owned by the State, would be a safe haven for our homeless friends. Since the beginning of the meetings to develop Grace Market Place, we had been told that these woods would be a place where homeless people could camp. We were encouraged to help people move out there. There was not the slightest hint of NIMBY protests throughout the process of developing Grace and moving people to the nearby woods. The fact that the woods were owned by the state – well, hey – no local NIMBYS to fear. Freeman and I were clapping each other on the back – we had stayed the course throughout long, tough years – and now our homeless friends were finally safe.
On the morning of Friday, July 25, my phone started ringing – hysterical phone calls from homeless people living in the woods to the west of Grace. Sheriffs’ deputies had come around at 7 a.m., posted the area with NO TRESPASS signs, and walked from tent to tent telling people they had to leave within seven days or be arrested. We drove out there. Our friends were walking up and down the road looking numb and stunned, like accident victims, the walking wounded, unable to take in what had just happened. We found out that this eviction took place at the request of Taccachale.
I have rewritten this newsletter in my head several times – the first five or six mental drafts being full of hysterical verbiage, some not appropriate for a family newsletter. I don’t know what to make of the ruling forces within our government and community who did not MAKE SURE that this was going to be a safe haven. What were they thinking? Was it, “Have them move out there and hope nobody minds?”
I don’t know. There is a small wooded area to the south of Grace that is owned by the city. This area is filled to capacity with as many camp sites as possible. The pavilion within Grace is also full of people. All other areas out there are owned by the state, and could be posted with eviction notices as well. Some people are moving back downtown and a few have gone out to the freeway to hitchhike somewhere else. Grace Market Place is a wonderful facility, with great potential. If the city of Gainesville wants it to be a success – they need to find a place where homeless people can live while they avail themselves of the health care, job training and other services that are going to be available there. Otherwise they will be, in the famous words of Robert Kennedy, “Snatching defeat from the jaws of victory.”
In the meantime, we continue supporting Grace Market Place and wait for further developments. There are people looking into what to do about the situation, and I will keep all of you in the loop.
I am encouraging people who have large donations to bring them to Grace Market Place. We are still accepting small donations of the things we particularly need, as noted in the footer below. One of our greatest needs is for bottled water. We are still taking care of the folks in the Williston Road Community as well as people who camp in isolated sites. The url that takes people to our web site works on some computers and does not work on others. I don’t know what to do about it, and I am sorry for the inconvenience.
Hang in there – as the wonderul Annette of Occupy says – PEACE AND CARROTS TO ALL!