Help from the Home Van

By Arupa Freeman

The Home Van is a mobile soup kitchen and free store that goes out to homeless areas around downtown Gainesville twice a week and also helps out with individual crises going on in the homeless community between the two visits every week.

How you can help

The steadily growing numbers of the hungry, homeless, and otherwise needy in the greater Gainesville area strain the capacities of the Home Van and its allies.

Checks for the Home Van should now be made out to Citizens for Social Justice, Inc., ear-marked for the Home Van, and mailed to 307 SE 6th St., Gainesville, FL 32601.

Home Van’s current wish list includes food, clothing, blankets, tents, tarps, bottled water, creamy peanut butter, candles, white tube socks, bug spray, Vienna sausages, and personal hygiene products (contact Arupa at 352-372-4825 or to arrange drop-off).

The Alachua County Coalition for the Homeless and Hungry (also serving Bradford, Levy & Putnam Counties) includes several other agencies working to relieve those in distress, including

  • Arbor House
  • CDS Family & Behavioral Health Services
  • Chrysalis Community
  • Florida Works
  • Gainesville Community Ministry
  • Helping Hands Clinic
  • Interfaith Hospitality Network
  • Lazarus Restoration Ministries
  • Meridian Behavioral Healthcare
  • Peaceful Paths
  • Pleasant Place
  • The Preserve
  • Psychotherapeutic Services – FACT Team
  • The Salvation Army
  • St. Francis House
  • Three Rivers Legal Services

For links to these organizations, see or

Our volunteers include homeless people, who help with food preparation and delivery and also serve as our eyes and ears out in the woods so that we know if someone needs our help. We also have a doctor, a nurse, a lawyer, and a chaplain volunteering with us.

Through our newsletter, we reach out to the community, telling stories of life on the streets and in the woods, and letting people know what help is needed. We let people know there is no “the homeless” to be staked out, like a herd of cows, in places chosen by the city (not that there is such a place – throughout our nine years of service, we have watched homeless people chased in circles from one patch of woods, park or alley to another, in the idiotic belief that they will somehow disappear).

To read stories about our homeless friends, go to (names and identifying details have been changed to protect the privacy of our friends, but the stories are real).

The mission of the Home Van is to bring food, clothing, blankets, hygiene supplies and other services to the unsheltered homeless people of the downtown Gainesville area. There are no tests of worth to receive services from the Home Van. We believe that all people are worthy of the necessities of life. We work in partnership with those we serve, for the higher purpose of making our world a more humane and loving place.

Early on we discovered that many homeless people have animal companions, often strays they adopted. We realized that you can’t help homeless people without helping their animals (which we want to do anyhow). Many of them will give their pets their own food and go hungry. Their animals also provide comfort, friendship, warmth in the winter and, in the case of dogs, protection from criminals who prey on homeless people.

We got bags of pet food at the food bank and passed them out. Much more was needed. In 2007, we were joined by Elizabeth Howard, the founder of Home Van Pet Care. Through the ceaseless efforts of Elizabeth and many others friends of animals, many, if not most, of the dogs and cats at homeless campsites have been spayed and neutered and receive vet care at the St. Francis House veterinary clinic.

To learn more about Home Van Pet Care, you can access their blog at To donate cash, animal food or supplies to Home Van Pet Care, or to learn about volunteer opportunities, contact Elizabeth at

The solution for homelessness is to give people somewhere to live. At meetings you will hear City Commissioners and others talk about how complicated it is to solve the problem of homelessness and how complex the causes are.

Homelessness has three causes: lack of affordable housing, lack of a living wage, and lack of access to health care, both physical and mental. Homeless people have the same problems as all the rest of us; they are just having them in public without money and family support.

You get drunk in your living room. Your homeless friend gets drunk in an alley. Your parents bailed you out of a really bad choice you made. Your homeless friend did not have anyone to do that. You spent the Vietnam War in college. Your homeless friend was sent to Vietnam and came home severely wounded in mind, body and spirit.

The biggest obstacle to providing shelter and other services to homeless people is NIMBY (Not In My Back Yard) hysteria, fueled by the criminalization of homelessness.

Yes, homeless people go to jail, but not for standing behind trees waiting to mug people. They are jailed for sleeping, for urinating, for having an open container, for being in the park after 11p.m.

On the rare occasions a homeless person commits an actual crime, he or she is identified as being homeless. When was the last time you read a crime story that started out, “Joe Smith, who lives indoors, was arrested for theft”?

Please carry bottled water in your car or bike basket this hot summer, so you can offer a homeless person a drink of water. Smile and ask them how they are doing. Don’t let them be invisible. They are our brothers and sisters.

Arupa Freeman is the founder and organizer of the Home Van.

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