After living in Seattle for the past three years, I moved back to Gainesville a month ago. My first impression, a feeling really, was that Gainesville felt as close to me as my skin. Lying in bed on one of those first nights I easily thought of all the things I love about this city. The first week I walked out on Bolens Bluff to the lookout platform on Paynes Prairie. I find that place as sacred and peaceful as any place I’ve meditated. A few days later I was on the wooded paths of San Felasco Hammock and was thrilled to see two cars in the parking lot with peace stickers on their bumpers. Ah, yes, Gainesville, proclaimed the first The City of Peace.
In the 23 years that I lived here I felt empowered by so many activists doing good for the common good. Those energies touched the deepest part of my nature, which enabled me to manifest community energies I didn’t know possessed. I am thankful to have returned.
Because I spent a few years helping homeless people I was disappointed to see the lines of people seeking food at the downtown plaza. From Arupa Freeman’s blog I knew not much had changed, but to see some of the same people who were hungry three years ago waiting in line for a sandwich, a piece of fruit, a cold drink, struck me as something sad.
I probably was a bit delusional, but I used to really believe that Gainesville was an exceptional place in the world and that the problem of the homeless and the hungry could be solved. Maybe humanity, in our elementary school level of spiritual maturity, doesn’t have it in us to be has humane as our conscience asks us to be. Denial is a good defense mechanism. It protects our heart. It was pleasing though to read, yesterday, that Mayor Lowe is agreeing to unlimited serving of food at St. Francis House. When I heard about the 130 person limit all I could think about was Somalia and pictures of starving children. And in our enlightened city, business owners insisted that 130 hungry was enough even though there was food. That felt like insult to humanity.
But Gainesville does remain a notch over many other cities that don’t allow the serving of food in public places. It’s not so bad. On the downtown plaza people line up, eat and disperse — Friday night music events continue, the Wednesday Farmer’s Market flourishes and that semi-fancy hotel across the street hasn’t closed down.
It’s not easy to make it a perfect world for all. We could do better. Homelessness is the result of the choice a community makes to not provide housing for those who can’t provide it for themselves. And regardless of what some believe, many can’t provide it for themselves.
I love being back in Gainesville.
Rev. Bob Sh’mal Ellenberg