Officials discuss progress in plan for homeless center

Published: Monday, March 11, 2013 at 9:08 p.m.
Last Modified: Monday, March 11, 2013 at 9:08 p.m.

City and county commissioners Monday discussed the progress of negotiations between the city and the state to buy property for the long-planned homeless assistance shelter.

One of the biggest roadblocks in moving the project forward is acquiring the closed Gainesville Correctional Institution’s complex in its entirety, which is broken up into two sections. The Department of Corrections has expressed an interest in retaining part of the land for its own use. At a city commission meeting last month, a land exchange was proposed.

Although a preliminary appraisal of the property to be exchanged has been completed, a full appraisal and value has not been determined — stalling the project.

Fred Murry, assistant city manager, told commissioners that if everything lines up how they plan with the purchase and renovation of the site, funds will be necessary by the last quarter of this year to start providing services.

City Commissioner Lauren Poe raised the question of whether the site will offer mental and behavioral health services. He suggested the project should take advantage of every opportunity available to address mental health issues, a problem that plagues the homeless community.

Poe said, “I don’t want to miss any opportunities because we are focusing on a homelessness issue first.”

Both the city and county said that collaboration among different government bodies, community organizations and members and the homeless population itself were key to the success of the project.

City Commissioner Yvonne Hinson-Rawls mentioned a similar center in Chicago that employs its residents within the center, providing job training and investment in their own community.

County Commissioner Robert Hutchinson said he’d like to see pre-booking intervention in collaboration with the center. He said in many cases people are taken to jail for minor infractions who are suffering from addiction or mental health issues, and jail isn’t necessarily the best place for them.

“What we would like to see is some method of doing pre-booking intervention where we can shunt people in the right direction,” Hutchinson said.

Other concerns and comments from the commissioners included securing transportation to the center, reaching out to volunteer organizations, maintaining a simple model to ensure initial success, involving the needy population in the creation of the center and staying within the proposed budget after recent losses in funding.

City Commissioner Todd Chase expressed concerns about staying within the budget after about $660,000 in Housing and Urban Development money had to be cut from the project and used elsewhere.

At the end of the meeting, a few residents suggested ideas for how the center can utilize the community and resources in different ways. Dave Reed said land on the southern boundary of the center has served as a farm in the past and could be reactivated and used in conjunction with the center.

Murry said the Gainesville Correctional Institution workgroup, consisting of members from various community support services and government departments, recently visited an Atlanta homeless center similar to what they are trying to create. The group has been gathering cost estimates, feedback from the community and developing a request for proposal for management of the site.

Also, Murry said a private construction company made repairs to some of the buildings at the site to prevent further damage at no cost.

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