Dignity Village may be shutting down, but the city of Gainesville has a new plan to keep hope alive for the homeless.
For years, residents of the homeless encampment have used the services provided by GRACE Marketplace, a homeless shelter. But as the population rapidly grew, the promise of housing solutions dwindled, said Jon DeCarmine, the shelter’s executive director.
“Dignity Village was an idea with a lot of potential, but there was never enough staffing or resources,” he said.
DeCarmine said the city of Gainesville stopped accepting new residents in October as part of the long-term effort to close the campground. At the time, there were more than 200 people living in Dignity Village.
Shelby Taylor, the communications director for the city of Gainesville, said it “served no one’s best interest” for Gainesville’s homeless to live in a tent city outdoors.
“We continued to witness, over the past few years, deteriorating living conditions around that area,” Taylor said.
While Dignity Village was scheduled to close on Jan. 1, the city’s plan was delayed by the construction of the perimeter fence around Dignity Village. The fence is expected to be completed in the next 30 days, Taylor said.
Following the completion of the fence, city officials hope to create a campground at the shelter for residents to get help in finding the necessary housing to fit their situation, she said.
In October, Taylor said nearly 70 percent of Dignity Village’s homeless population said they had viable living alternatives when surveyed.
“We’re trying to connect people with the resources that they need so that we can move these people in a more positive direction,” she said.
In recent months, Alachua County increased its contribution to housing efforts to $1.5 million, the Alachua County spokesperson Mark Sexton said.
Sexton said that while the county commission has been very supportive of GRACE Marketplace and Dignity Village, they feel as though the time has come to focus on and prioritize housing solutions.
He said the county’s plan is to gradually lower its contribution to GRACE Marketplace, leave the city of Gainesville in charge of its funding and focus their attention on other housing interventions — rapid re-housing and permanent supportive housing.
“There’s only one way, when you boil everything down, to end homelessness, and that’s to put people in homes,” Sexton said.
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