By Jon DeCarmine, Director, GRACE
When I think of what we’ve been able to accomplish at GRACE in the past four years, I think of a poster I have up on the wall in my office. It’s a quote from St. Francis of Assisi, and it reads: “Start by doing what’s necessary; then do what’s possible; and suddenly you are doing the impossible.”
For years, people without houses had to spend all day, every day, navigating a frustrating maze of appointments and expectations at dozens of different agencies spread out all over town. All the while, they had to be thinking about where would sleep that night, where they would use the bathroom, and where they could store their belongings. It was a lot to ask, and it left a shockingly high percentage of our homeless population out in the heat and in the cold, unsure what to do or how to get it done.
Fast forward to where we are with GRACE today — we have a one-stop assistance center and emergency shelter designed to eliminate all of the barriers that kept people from getting the help they need. Our services are in one location, and we have a team of trained professionals ready to help from the moment someone shows up. We serve the people who can’t or won’t go to other shelters in town, and we do it on a scale no one thought was even possible.
Our community, finally, has everything it needs in an emergency shelter. People have a place to go where they can get the services they need to get off the street. Our guests are safe — we’ve had no major violent incidents since the day we opened. People have access to food, to shelter, to clothing, bathrooms, showers, laundry, and a wide variety of partner agencies with a common goal of getting them off the streets as quickly as possible. People have shelter from the cold, and a safe place to go during hurricanes and tropical storms. Our Housing Programs regularly move our most vulnerable citizens off the streets and into Rapid Rehousing and Permanent Supportive Housing apartments.
In four short years, we’ve grown from a glimmer in the eye of a small, committed group of people to a 113-bed shelter using best practices and data to reduce homelessness in Alachua County. There are hundreds and hundreds of people in homes – right now, thanks to support they received at GRACE – who were homeless five years ago. Homelessness in our community is down 30 percent. We’ve done what’s necessary, and we’ve done what’s possible. Suddenly, we’re doing the impossible. And we’re just getting started.
Looking for a way to help? We need summertime volunteers in the Cafe to help prepare and serve meals. Cooking at Cafe 131 is a great way to get together with friends from school or work, and you’ll be making an immediate impact. Our volunteers have helped serve almost half a million meals since 2014, and we’d love to see you out here this summer!
To volunteer as an individual or as part of a meal group, please contact Travis at 352-792-0800 ext 104, or e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org. D