City commissioners want you to know the face of homelessness doesn’t always belong to a bearded hitchhiker wearing a backpack. It can be the face of a child living out of a relative’s car. Sometimes it’s the face of a woman who lost her job.
“That’s a part of the homeless picture, but that’s not all of it,” said Alachua County Commissioner Rodney Long at a press conference Friday afternoon.
Long, joined by City Commissioner Jack Donovan and advocates for the homeless, gave a midway update on the progress made by the City of Gainesville/Alachua County 10-year plan to end homelessness, which was drafted in March 2005.
The press conference, held at the County Administration Building, was the first in a 10-day awareness campaign running through Sunday.
Some of the progress listed included a completed joint Office of Homelessness, a FloridaWorks office inside the county’s Housing Authority to help battle unemployment and a homeless management information system for agencies to share information through.
“We are very pleased about the progress,” Long said, adding that there is still a long way to go to find help for the estimated 1,292 homeless in the Gainesville area.
While a report from the Alachua County Coalition for the Homeless and Hungry cites this as a 25 percent decrease in the overall homeless population, commissioners said the actual number may be double, as many homeless people do not participate in surveys.
“They choose to be below the radar,” Long said.
Since 2005, the plan has been tailored to address more needs as they’ve arisen, Donovan said. Several of the updates revolve around the first entry/one-stop center to be built about five miles north of downtown Gainesville near the 800 block of Northwest 53rd Avenue.
The center will sleep 60 transitional residents and eight permanent residents who are either disabled physically or mentally, according to Theresa Lowe, director of the Office of Homelessness.
Lowe said the center will cost about $4 million, which includes land acquisition and construction, and should be completed next summer.
About 500 meals will be served daily, and a campground outside the center will be able to hold about 100 members of the homeless community. To counter criticism of the center’s location, Donovan said a shuttle service is being considered to transport people from the downtown bus terminal to the center.
The commissioners said the center will not only help people get back on their feet but also provide residents with the skills and counseling necessary to remain self-sufficient.
“Homeless people are just like everybody else. They need a whole range of services,” Lowe said.
A medical clinic was another update to the original plan, Donovan said.
“A huge percentage of homeless have mental-health issues or substance-abuse problems or both,” said David Forest, chairman of the campaign and a substance abuse therapist with Shands Vista’s Florida Recovery Center.
Forest emphasized that medical expenses can be the cause of homelessness for many and said a case management program is needed at the center.
Through the program, case managers could work with the homeless through counseling and treatment, and even assist with simple tasks like applying for disability.
A warrant-clearance program is being created for the homeless, which would involve working with the Office of Homelessness, the State Attorney’s Office and the public defender to get misdemeanor charges dismissed, Donovan said.
“They may have some charges that are not for violent crimes, but they may prevent them from getting help,” Forest said.
For Lowe and Forest, the campaign’s ultimate goal is changing the community’s perception of the homeless.
“Education is knowledge,” Lowe said. “The more you know, the less you have to be intimidated by.”
For a complete calendar of events, visit alachuahomeless.com and click on 10D10YP.
Editor's note on 10/05/10: A quote in the original story was attributed to Craig Lowe. It was actually said by Theresa Lowe, director of the Office of Homelessness.