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Saturday, April 13, 2024
Opinions generic
Opinions generic

Over the course of the past few weeks, it became obvious to anyone paying attention that the national crisis in chronic homelessness was manifesting itself in a couple of new tent camps, including one downtown on SE Fourth Place — literally on the street itself.

As mayor, I knew my colleagues on the Gainesville City Commission and I had to act, but I also knew we were fiscally restrained, in the middle of an unusually challenging budget year.

Because of the flexibility of federal funds from the American Rescue Plan Act, Gainesville was able to respond in a matter of days and partner with GRACE Marketplace to create additional shelter beds and the wraparound services that come with them. While there continues to be work to do on Fourth Place, many of those campers are now safely sheltered at GRACE.

You can see ARPA funds at work saving and changing lives across our community. Our city commission has been able to put those resources to work in a variety of Gainesville nonprofits that directly benefit our neighbors every day, from homeless services to domestic abuse services, from early learning organizations to mental health counseling and everything in between. ARPA funds made it possible for the city and Alachua County to partner with UF Health and build the UF Health urgent care center on Hawthorne Road — the first health care facility “out East” in anyone’s memory. 

We’re also participating in the “One Nation One Project” program to support healthy alternatives to gun violence with resources from this Biden administration funding, and ARPA funds allowed us to purchase a “Brasstrax” system at the Gainesville Police Department to enable law enforcement to track shell casings back to the weapons — and users — responsible for gun deaths. 

As we approach President Joe Biden’s fourth State of the Union address, several mayors — from Phoenix to Cleveland to Providence to Baton Rouge to Gainesville and points in between — are highlighting the unprecedented support our neighbors have enjoyed from this administration through ARPA, the Bipartisan Infrastructure Bill (BIL) and other programs. 

Speaking of the BIL, I want you to know we are very directly using these federal funding opportunities to invest in built infrastructure in Gainesville as well. In 2023 we received an eight million dollar Safe Streets and Roads for All grant to make our community’s premiere thoroughfare, University Avenue, safe for everyone who uses it, from the area of Cone Park all the way to the former UF president’s house at NW 22nd St. There is no doubt that implementation of this grant will save lives on University Avenue.

We’ve also received a grant through the Federal Transit Administration that will allow the city to build a Regional Transit System (RTS) bus hub adjacent to the new UF Health Hawthorne Road facility at the Eastside Health and Economic Development Initiative (EHEDI) site. 

This new hub will help residents of surrounding neighborhoods get to the jobs and services they need in other parts of the community quickly and efficiently on our city’s bus system. We hope it will also serve as a regional park-and-ride site for residents of surrounding communities coming to our city for work or services. 

Frankly, our city would not have been able to consider building out the extensive opportunities we have planned (and broken ground on already) at the EHEDI site on Hawthorne Road without this support from the federal government. 

Southeast Gainesville residents — and neighbors across our entire city and region — will be directly healed, employed and generally served for decades to come because of the opportunities provided by ARPA and BIL funding programs created and implemented by the Biden administration. 

These examples only scratch the surface of the myriad ways the city of Gainesville will be able to save, change and improve lives over both the near and long term with this support from federal grant packages. It should go without saying that these programs do not happen in a vacuum. Without dedicated, visionary support from the White House, federal resources like these simply are not available for local government investment. 

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I would be remiss as mayor to not recognize these programs, and I want you to be aware not only that they exist, but that your city government is seeking them aggressively and implementing them with great care and intentionality. These are your federal tax dollars at work right here in your community, saving and changing lives every day. 

Harvey Ward is the mayor of Gainesville.

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