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Friday, June 14, 2024

City holds service fair to benefit homeless

Bikes and backpacks scattered Downtown Community Plaza as people gathered around benches, eating meals of chicken and green beans.

Meanwhile, children played tag and dogs pulled on their leashes as the sun set. The temperature slowly dropped.

Gainesville's "Homeless Night Out and Service Fair" on Wednesday bustled with people looking for warm dinners, hand-me-downs, blankets or sound advice.

More than 30 service providers set up under white tents and formed an arc around the plaza.

Donated coats and shirts were given out to the homeless.

Donna Summerall, a local homeless woman, picked out a Gators shirt from the heap, saying that good things come to those who wait.

She said her monthly social security check pays for food stamps, medical bills and clothing.

Over the past 20 years, she has found herself sporadically homeless.

"Until you have to lay on cold concrete in freezing 20- to 30-degree temperatures, you don't know," Summerall said.

Leonard Nimmons, 58, said he is homeless. He said people who hit brick walls in life tend to start using alcohol and drugs.

"There are only so many things before a guy turns back to crime," he said.

As people lined up for dinner, Nimmons said, "They don't know where their next meal is coming from."

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He said homeless people in the plaza watch out for each other.

"Most of the people take care of each other because they're brothers in the fact that they're homeless," Nimmons said.

Ernest Brockington, who sat on the plaza and ate dinner, said he probably would have been homeless if he didn't have relatives and friends who helped.

"I would have been out here walking in the street," Brockington said.

Jim Wright, executive director of the Alachua County Coalition for the Homeless and Hungry, said the night out has evolved into a bigger event the past couple of years.

Maryann Longarzo, a volunteer with the Alachua County Victim Services and Rape Crisis Center, said it's the first time she's been at the service fair.

As a past rape victim, she said she wanted to help others.

"You have to like people," Longarzo said. "You've got to care."

Booths offered anything from free Bibles to shelter information.

Kent Vann, executive director for St. Francis House, said people are often surprised to see how many services are geared toward the homeless.

"When they think of the homeless, they think of shelter and they don't think of services," Vann said.

Brockington said people need to learn to help their neighbors.

"If I were a millionaire, I'd be broke anyway because I would have built a big shelter," Brockington said.

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