Homeless coalition wants to operate one-stop center

In this Oct. 22, 2012 file photo, Jack Donovan, left, then-director of the Alachua County Coalition for the Homeless and Hungry, talks with Cheryl Twombly about care bags volunteers are filling for the homeless in Gainesville.

Brad McClenny/The Gainesville Su
Published: Monday, September 16, 2013 at 4:55 p.m.
Last Modified: Monday, September 16, 2013 at 4:55 p.m.

An umbrella organization for local charities serving the homeless wants to run the long-planned homeless shelter and social services center.

The Alachua County Coalition for the Homeless and Hungry, which includes more than two dozen social service agencies, was the lone group to express interest when the city put out a request earlier in the summer for organizations seeking to operate the facility.

After a mandatory July 29 pre-bid conference that only the coalition attended, the city canceled its request for proposals over a potential conflict of interest because the same person, Theresa Lowe, served as executive director of the coalition and the joint city-county funded Office of Homelessness.

Lowe subsequently resigned as executive director of the coalition so that consortium of charities could press on with its effort to operate the long-planned and still unopened center.

City spokesman Bob Woods said staff has prepared a revised request for proposals from nonprofit organizations interested in running the one-stop center. It will be sent out after the City Attorney's Office completes a required legal review, Woods said.

Brendan Shortley, the chairman of the Coalition for the Homeless and Hungry's board of directors, said the group feels the project would move forward more quickly if the city entered negotiations with the organization without going through the process of soliciting proposals.

But the group was also willing to work through that process as well, he said.

"We are obviously still interested in running it and we are the only organization that has expressed interest," Shortley said.

The one-stop center and shelter was first envisioned about eight years ago as the focal point of a 10-year plan to help the homeless in the Gainesville area. The project languished for years as the city's selected location near Northwest 53rd Avenue ran into litigation and wetlands permitting issues.

Last October, the city turned its efforts toward acquiring the closed Gainesville Correctional Institution on Northeast 39th Avenue after the state declared the property surplus.

While the purchase of that site is being worked out, the city wants the state to allow access and use of the property so the city can start getting it ready as a shelter and center.

The city's long-standing plan has been to contract with a nonprofit agency to operate the center. As for funding, Gainesville has set aside $308,000 for operations in the first year. Alachua County will put in another $150,000 in the next budget year.

County Commissioner Lee Pinkoson said commissioners are mulling the county's long-term financial contribution to the center and whether that money will come from funding programs such as the Community Agency Partnership Program for nonprofits.

Shortley said the coalition's plan is to have area charities serving the homeless also contribute financially.

"We're hoping to involve other organizations to bring money as well," he said.

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