Grace Marketplace, Gainesville’s homeless services center, officially opened Sunday with goals of providing a space for homeless people to come together, eat and eventually have a place to stay overnight.
The facility, located at 2845 NE 39th Ave., is open daily from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Meals, mail pickup and referral services are provided, and partner agencies are providing a variety of social services as well.
Jon DeCarmine, director of operations for the North Central Florida Coalition for the Homeless and Hungry, said the purpose of bringing organizations, like Veterans Affairs, to one place is to make life easier for homeless people or people at risk.
“The idea with this place is that I can say, ‘We have identified what service you need. It’s in this building right over here,’ so that there’s no transportation barrier,” DeCarmine said.
The center’s services will eventually include overnight shelter. DeCarmine said about 25 beds will be available starting July 1.
Theresa Lowe, executive director of the Alachua County Coalition for the Homeless and Hungry, said that tent camping will also be an option at Grace Marketplace in the future.
Laundry facilities, a computer lab, a Dress for Success clothing closet and secure storage spaces are scheduled to be added within a few months.
While the city and county are providing $308,000 annually for the operation of Grace Marketplace, Lowe said an additional $20,000 per month is needed to maintain its current level of service.
“To expand our services to where we feel they should be, we need another million dollars a year,” Lowe said.
Volunteers are also needed for a variety of tasks at the center, including reception, serving meals, sorting donations, fixing up the grounds and eventually overnight supervision, Lowe said.
“If there’s something somebody is willing and able to do, if they are willing to take the time to come out here to do it, it’s something we could probably use,” DeCarmine said.
Jonathon Nunes, a 22-year-old UF international relations junior, said he plans to volunteer at Grace Marketplace. The the issue of homelessness has personal significance for him.
“My father has been intermittently homeless for 10 years,” Nunes said. “Once you’re homeless, it’s very hard not to be homeless. I feel that the center’s mission is something that’s doable and good, and something that I can be a part of. Our community suffers from a severe problem, but I think with the right level of attention and dedication, it can be rectified.”
[A version of this story ran on page 1 - 4 on 6/5/2014 under the headline "New city-county homeless center to be one-stop hub for help"]
Myrtle Belflower, 27, pick up books from Grace Marketplace’s library on Wednesday. The homeless center opened Sunday and offers free meals twice a day. Several facilities are open to visitors.