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Wednesday, December 01, 2021

Immoral, shameful and inhumane were words hurled at Thursday's Gainesville City Commission meeting, as the battle heats up against a city law limiting the number of meals non-religious organizations can serve.

About 150 Gainesville residents gathered at City Hall to express concerns about the limit, which one person described as "downright evil."

Despite the city's Tuesday announcement that the City of Gainesville will team up with St. Francis House to use the Martin Luther King Jr. Center, 1024 NE 14th St., as an additional site for providing meals on Thanksgiving, citizens remained indignant.

Pat Fitzpatrick, a homeless advocate who plans to run for commissioner, was warned by Mayor Pegeen Hanrahan that he would be asked to leave if he didn't stop interrupting the commission.

Patrick described the city commission, except for Jack Donovan, as "malevolent assholes."

Kent Vann, executive director of the St. Francis House homeless shelter and soup kitchen, said it warms him to see the community take a stance on this issue.

"We have definite community support," Vann said, "and we love that."

He said the shelter's special-use permit was set up to establish a 130-meal limit, but nothing in the permit explained what would happen if it was exceeded.

However, Vann thinks the limit will be lifted but not imminently. The community, with a little bit of compromise, was able to put its plan of action in place in a short period, he said.

"Now we can amend the permit at a later time," Vann said. "So we won't have to worry about people experiencing hardship or loneliness during the holidays."

The city commission passed general code provision, which regulate food distribution centers, in 1992, long before any current elected official was elected.

"It's not that we're inhumane," Hanrahan said. "We have rules to follow."

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Commissioner Jack Donovan said there are constraints on the city's laws that make it difficult to feed the homeless. However, Donovan urged the Gainesville community to continue the fight in January, after the holiday season. He believes their actions will lift the limit.

Hanrahan shared an anecdote to support the commission's decision. She said a resident, who lives near the St. Francis House, has complained about fighting, filth and unbearable sexual activities at Lynch Park near the shelter.

Hanrahan said the number of homeless people in Gainesville is declining.

She also mentioned Gainesville's proposed one-stop homeless service center, which will provide food and shelter and allocate more than half a million dollars in federal stimulus money.

The center was proposed in 2005 as part of Gainesville's 10-year plan to combat homelessness. A date for the center's construction to begin has not been set.

"I don't think anyone who has participated carefully in this discussion wouldn't say we haven't been trying," Hanrahan said. "We spent hundreds of hours on this topic."

Correction: The Alligator originally reported that Hanrahan said a resident who lives near the St. Francis House complained about fighting, filth and unbearable sexual activities at the shelter. The resident complained about the activities at Lynch Park, a park near the shelter.

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