On Monday, the Gainesville City Commission voted to approve the location for a new homeless shelter that will be part of a joint effort to end homelessness between the city and Alachua County.
According to the plan, entitled GRACE (Gainesville Region/Alachua County Empowerment) for the Homeless, roughly 1,000 homeless people live in Alachua County. Currently, Alachua County has fewer than 350 shelter beds, and the plan will eventually create 350 more.
However, that will still leave 300 men, women and children without a place to sleep at night. As the GRACE report states, in order for this plan to be successful, our entire community needs to step up to the plate. That means students, too.
Last semester, a referendum in the Student Government elections called for the creation of a student-run and student-funded homeless shelter. The bill included a requirement that incoming students would have to visit the shelter during Preview. Most people thought this additional requirement was superfluous, so only 35 percent of students voted in favor of the referendum. It failed.
This semester, the referendum will be placed on the ballot without the Preview stipulation. I hope it passes.
Further, I hope we are able to place the shelter on campus. Students often find themselves with a couple of hours of free time between classes. Imagine having the opportunity to fill the time gap between statistics and skin diving with something other than a frenzied waffle fry binge at the Hub. Imagine spending those few extra hours a week making a purposeful, positive impact on somebody?s life.
If the shelter were on campus, students wouldn?t have to walk more than a couple of minutes out of their way. Students would benefit from real-world work experience because there would be opportunities to volunteer in education, hospitality, finance, health care, marketing - the list goes on.
I find it disheartening to hear students talk as if there is nothing we can do to help the homeless. The truth is we can do a lot if we try. Regardless of how people became homeless, everyone deserves a chance at a better life.
Most of us grew up in middle-class families and had parents who cared enough about our educations and futures that they pushed us all the way here to UF. Most of us had backyards to play in and role models to emulate.
Unfortunately, not everyone has those advantages. In fact, according to the GRACE report, 27 percent of homeless people in Alachua County are younger than 18.
An old adage tells us that societies are judged by how they treat their least well-off members. If we care to be judged as a moral university, it is absolutely our responsibility as students to do more for Gainesville?s homeless community.
A few students say we just can?t afford it. How can you honestly look a starving boy in the eyes and tell him you can?t afford to buy him a sandwich if at the same time you are pushing a Best Buy shopping cart filled with a brand new high-definition TV and a 1,000-watt surround sound system?
We can crank up the music as loud as we want, but it?s about time we tune into the realities of homelessness in our community.
Danny Beaulieu is a junior majoring in philosophy.