Published on gainesville.com // November 1, 2016
The Alachua County commission heard a presentation Tuesday to shut down Dignity Village, bulldoze and transform the landscape and place homeless people into housing.
Tammie Weasenforth smokes a cigarette outside of her tent at Dignity Village in Gainesville, Fla., Nov. 1, 2016. A consultant company has recommended transforming the homeless camp and addressing homelessness differently by July 1, 2017. "I'm here because I like the freedom," Weasenforth said. (Andrea Cornejo/ Staff photographer gainesville.com)
The Alachua County Commission heard a presentation Tuesday urging officials to shut down Dignity Village, bulldoze and transform the landscape and place homeless people into housing.
Dignity Village is a homeless camp of tents and makeshift shelters next to Grace Marketplace, which has meals and support services for the homeless.
The plan, based on a report from OrgCode Consulting, pushes for homeless officials to focus primarily on getting people into permanent housing. The plan would restrict re-entry into the village, no matter the reason for leaving, and have homeless officials ban programming that has nothing to do with the housing process, such as Bible studies, Alcoholics Anonymous and job training, for a quicker transition.
Gainesville's assistant city manager, Fred Murry, said the overhaul of Dignity Village could take about a year, and other shelters would be affected, too.
“It is a paradigm shift from where we used to be, to where we’re going,” Murry said.
The Ontario-based consulting firm suggested the homeless initiative would be paid for largely by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), and local funding could also provide property owners incentives for accepting low-income tenants.
Although the costs for the strategy in Alachua County are unknown, the county’s director of community support services, Claudia Tuck, said the national average for four to six months of assistance per person is around $4,800.
Tuck said landlords would have guaranteed rent money each month. She said the new direction is more of a shift in policy for local officials to be in unison when addressing the homeless issue.
According to the OrgCode report, 21.6 percent of Alachua County’s 260,000 residents live in poverty, yet only a “small fraction” of those in poverty are homeless. A person working full-time hours at minimum wage earns just shy of $1,300 a month, the report states. The average rent here is $883 and exceeds what is affordable to someone living on Social Security.
Tuck said homeless people would be handled on a case-by-case basis and would have three main requirements when going into housing: agree to work with case managers, sign and abide by a lease and pay rent with a portion of one's income — no matter the source.
Tuck said in an interview she knows the transition from sleeping outside to inside a house won’t be as easy for all. She has heard of situations where people made the change, but still slept on their porch.
“It’s an adjustment,” Tuck said. But in areas where this approach is followed “85 to 90 percent remained housed for long periods of time.”
While shelters would take significant steps toward housing placement, people being housed would receive assistance (welfare, sobriety, job training, etc.) afterward.
Chairman Robert "Hutch" Hutchinson said several homeless people have come to him personally alleging crimes of abuse and corruption at Dignity Village . He said he fears those complaints haven’t been taken seriously by others.
“I get the sense when they talk to us that we have no answers to give whatsoever,” Hutchinson said. “To me, that’s not really fair.”
The strategy is preliminary and is subject to change due to community needs, Murry said.
“This isn’t a plan that’s in concrete,” he said.
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