City votes to hear more on shelters

Published: Tuesday, October 1, 2002 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, October 1, 2002 at 12:44 a.m.
A crowd of mostly southeast Gainesville business owners and residents told Gainesville city commissioners Monday night they don't want another homeless shelter, even a temporary one, in their neighborhoods.
But most of the people who packed City Hall during a special meeting agreed Gainesville needs an emergency shelter to house the city's overflow of homeless people during the winter.
The commission voted unanimously to direct the Homeless and Interfaith Hospitality Network to work with city staff to devise and present to the commission a plan to provide temporary winter shelter.
It also voted 3-2 to petition the city's Plan Board to add five beds at St. Francis House, a downtown homeless shelter that now has 30 beds.
Commissioners Chuck Chestnut and Tony Domenech voted against the measure.
The meeting came after a homeless advocacy group proposed last week that the city pay for a temporary shelter that would house as many as 75 homeless people a night in an army-style tent or abandoned building.
The Alachua County Coalition for the Homeless and Hungry said the temporary, low-cost option would give the city more time to decide where to locate a permanent "safe space" shelter.
But others said an emergency shelter would draw homeless populations from other cities and would thwart the city's efforts to revitalize downtown.
Running the temporary shelter would cost the city $1 a night for each person that stays there, according to the Alachua County Coalition for the Homeless and Hungry, the group that proposed the emergency shelter.
A Sept. 26 letter sent from the homeless coalition to the commission said the shelter would house 50 to 75 people and be open only at night from Dec. 1 to Feb. 28.
Drugs, alcohol, weapons and disruptive behavior would be barred from the shelter. Before being admitted, people would have to receive police clearance confirming there are no outstanding warrants for their arrest.
The homeless coalition would donate staff time or funding to run the facility for just more than eight weeks - nearly two-thirds of the time the shelter would be open. Under the proposal, the city would pay $5,500 to cover the remaining staffing needs.
The group had suggested locating the temporary shelter in the unused Gainesville Regional Utilities Engineering building, located at 700 SE 3rd St.
The group also suggested erecting a 30-by-40-foot tent at the Depot Avenue stormwater park site at Depot Avenue and S. Main Street.
The city is cleaning the site of pollution.
Other sites for the shelter mentioned Monday night were the Gainesville Community Plaza, Lynch Park and other downtown parks, open space between the downtown library and the Matheson Center, the Alachua County Fairgrounds, and land near Tacachale off Waldo Road.
The proposal comes several months after the commission shot down a task force's top suggestions for a bare-bones "safe space" shelter.
Earlier this year, the Safe Space Task Force recommended four sites for the shelter in east Gainesville. That drew an outcry from some residents of the city's east side, who said their part of town has become a "dumping ground" for social service agencies.
"We should look for a site that doesn't impact any neighborhoods," Commissioner Chuck Chestnut said.
Some residents and commissioners suggested Monday that local churches could house the homeless on cold nights.
At least one suggested large apartment complexes each allocate a unit for the homeless. One resident offered to donate land for an emergency shelter.
Many said the city's homeless shelters shouldn't be concentrated in a small section of southeast Gainesville.
"I feel like my neighborhood is taking most of the load of this problem that our entire city and county have," said Tom Cooper, who owns a downtown bicycle shop and lives near the St. Francis House.
Some were concerned about the city's liability if it funded an emergency shelter.
"You're dealing with a very different population who can hurt themselves and other people, unintentionally sometimes, because they're out of control," said Anne Orlando, who served on the Safe Space Task Force.
Ashley Rowland can be reached at 374-5195 or

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