The message below is from Jon Decarmine, director of the office of Homelessness for
Gainesville and Alachua County.
Hi everyone --
Tonight, the City Commission will meet to further discuss, and hopefully take action on, the site of GRACE Marketplace, the One-Stop Service Center called for in the 10-year plan. The Marketplace will include a wide variety of supportive services, direct assistance, hygiene facilities (showers, toilets, laundry) and has the potential to expand into a unique campus setting where people can access any and all needed assistance – including housing – without the hassles of tracking down a bus pass, missing lunch on one side of town to go to an appointment on the other, or doing all of those things only to find out you never received the letter sent out three weeks ago changing your appointment date.
The Marketplace was to open in three phases: administrative, then an expansion of the types and frequency of services provided, and finally adding housing to the existing operations. Somewhere along the way, the One-Stop gained political momentum amid speculation that its launch would spur the free meal services at St. Francis House and The Salvation Army to move away from downtown, and thereby create an extreme reduction in the visibility of homelessness downtown. The One-Stop, in many minds, meant an end to downtown homelessness.
From this widespread misconception came the growing advocate push for the immediate inclusion of housing. If we were expected to “solve” downtown homelessness, then the solution was not one of co-located services or extra showers. As it has been from the late 1970s on, homelessness is an issue of housing and governmental spending priorities. Effective though they may be, case management, life skills training and budget counseling can’t address what people without housing tell us is their most pressing concern: a safe, affordable place to stay.
The most recent incarnation of the Site Selection Committee decided last week to eliminate the North Main Terrace warehouse as a potential site, on the grounds that it would not support the vision held for the Marketplace. Following the closure of this process, committee members noted significant deficiencies in the established criteria and continued to search for a more appropriate site.
Tonight, a wide variety of committee members and community leaders will present the Commission with a recommendation to consider three more sites that come much closer to fulfilling the One-Stop vision. For perhaps the first time in local political history, the City Commission will hear a recommendation primarily focused on compassionately meeting the very urgent needs of people without housing, but also carrying with it the support of business leaders, homeless advocates, the downtown business community and far-reaching coalitions of neighborhood and business organizations.
The preferred site trades off proximity to downtown for the ability to accommodate approximately 200 new units of homeless housing, a 50% increase over our current inventory, as well as multiple acres for a sanctioned campsite free from alcohol, drugs, and harassment by police or potential thieves. Without housing, we will never begin to appropriately address homelessness in Alachua County, and a downtown location, while sensible for many reasons, will never provide the feasibility, affordability and political support needed to move this project – initially slated to open in January 2007 – toward completion.
I urge you to attend tonight’s City Commission meeting to support the development of a One-Stop site that will accommodate housing. The meeting starts at 5 p.m., but we are next-to-last on the agenda, so I expect the issue will come up no earlier than 7. As always, your best bet is to keep track of the agenda on Channel 12 and head to City Hall at the appropriate time.
There has been conflict within the advocate community as to the relative merits of the One-Stop Center. The vision for this facility is based around housing, with a wide array of services wrapped around the residents to insure they can access the opportunities and skills needed to regain housing. By December of this year, more than 14,000 housing units will sit vacant in Alachua County – more than 10 for each and every homeless man, women and child on the streets. There is no shortage of housing here, but what we need is to fight together for every opportunity to expand housing that is affordable to the people who live and work in our community.
Jon DeCarmine, Executive Director
Gainesville/Alachua County Office on Homelessness
703 NE 1st St., Gainesville, FL 32601
352.372.2549 // 352.373.4097 (fax)