by Jon Decarmine
Advocates have been working toward a vision of ending homelessness in Gainesville for over 10 years.
The GRACE Marketplace concept was the centerpiece of the community’s plan to end homelessness in 2005. After nearly a decade of searching for the perfect location, the center opened its doors in May at 2845 NE 39th Ave, the former site of the Gainesville Correctional Institute.
After stripping the site of the razor wire, sally ports, and inmate signs, advocates have found the site to be an ideal fit for providing a wide variety of human services to people in need. The site features 15 buildings on 25 acres, including four dormitories, a kitchen and dining area, laundry, administrative buildings, and more.
As a community we have an incredible opportunity to convert a former prison into a place that actually helps people get back on their feet, and does so with a strong commitment to providing assistance with respect and compassion.
While the location is ideal, we have a long way to go to realize its full potential. The State stripped the buildings of everything of value before GRACE moved onto the property.
The kitchens have no stoves or other equipment to cook with; the dormitories have no beds or air conditioning. The bathrooms have no toilet paper dispensers, and the showers have no privacy stalls. The list goes on.
We have more potential to do amazing, community-driven social justice work than we have ever had before, but we are working with shells of buildings and a skeletal budget that provides only half of what is needed.
Still, in its first four months, we have helped meet the basic needs of hundreds of people a day.
This is a project worth supporting. Some of the “services” we are scrambling to provide are fundamental human rights that people without housing in our community have not had access to before – bathrooms, trash disposal, clean water, respect, and dignity.
We provide a safe, air-conditioned place where people can hang out during the day. We offer substance abuse and mental health counseling, AA and NA meetings, assistance with public benefit signups, showers, bathrooms, storage of personal possessions, a clothes closet, a computer lab, a library, and a place to do laundry.
We have an outdoor shelter pavilion where 50 people a night sleep without fear of someone waking them up in the middle of a downpour telling them they will be arrested if they don’t move along.
We’ll open our first indoor shelter, for 10 men and 10 women, in September. We’re still scrambling to find money to staff it, to get full-size bedding and mattress protectors, and to install box fans in the space (there’s no air conditioning in the building).
We are actively seeking volunteers and donations of land, vehicles, and other items we can use to fund our day-to-day operations. We need people to set up recurring donations through PayPal, even if it’s only $10 or $20 a month. Our biggest challenge right now is to keep the doors open and the lights on long enough for this project to reach its full potential.
To learn more about GRACE Marketplace, to donate, or to fill out a volunteer application, please check out http://www.gracemarketplace.org or call (352) 792-0800.