Groups try to close the gaps in helping Gainesville's homeless

Published: Thursday, January 14, 2010 at 5:34 p.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, January 14, 2010 at 5:34 p.m.

Getting together to talk about helping the homeless doesn't have to be a heavy-duty occasion.

About 40 people met at Holy Trinity Episcopal Church Thursday afternoon for a lighthearted luncheon focused on “networking for the needy.”

The event, which was organized by Holy Trinity, was the first of its kind to bring together various service providers throughout the community to talk about better serving the homeless population of Gainesville.

“We felt a need to sit down with providers of services to the homeless to really share information and identify some of the gaps,” said Melody Marshall, chair of the Holy Trinity Downtown Ministry that runs one of the most active homeless outreach programs in the downtown area.

Coordinating allows these service providers to gain a better understanding of what is already out there, but more importantly what isn't being provided, she said.

Holy Trinity's Downtown Outreach Committee already provides the homeless with bus passes, helps them obtain identification cards and birth certificates, and also gives them "Caring Bags" with water and snacks.

Gainesville has many resources, and frequently local agencies don't know how to tap into them, said Matthew DeWein of the Veterans Administration.

“It's days like this where we can learn how to work together,” he said. “It's sort of like a brainstorming day where we can share ideas and that's the main thing.”

The meeting itself was informal. With no set agenda, providers ate lunch while talking about what should be done next to help the homeless and working poor.

To Gainesville City Commissioner Jack Donovan, a meeting like this allows members of the community to be more successful in their efforts.

“We know we aren't being effective enough in meeting the needs,” he said. “So I think the more networking we can do, the more we sort of motivate each other in these conversations to look over the horizon for the possibilities we haven't seen.”

Peaceful Paths, the Veterans Administration and Highlands Presbyterian Church were among the providers who turned out for the meeting.

Seeing the number of people and agencies who make homeless issues their concerns was a real encouragement, said Randy Stacey, director of the Helping Hands Clinic.

Currently, there is no set date for a follow-up luncheon, but the group hopes to meet again in the coming months.

"People are trying, but it's not easy," Stacey said. "In the meantime, the need continues."

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