by arupa freeman
The Gainesville City Commission is going to pursue the purchase of the former Gainesville Correctional Institution (GCI) on the 2800 block of NE 39th Avenue as a possible site for the long-discussed One-Stop homeless service center and shelter. This property is available since the state has declared it surplus and given the city government the option to buy it. The GCI building has many rooms with bunk beds, bathrooms, a large institutional kitchen and offices, so it would not require extensive, costly renovations. It is located near a jail and an airport, making it a tough sell that some NIMBY’s (“Not In My Back Yard) property values are going to be damaged by its presence. It is on a bus line, and has sidewalks and a bike trail.
This site is vastly superior to the 53rd Avenue site, where the One-Stop would have to be created from scratch and may never happen anyhow, since it faces years of litigation from the local NIMBY, and has not received a sign-off from the St. Johns Water Management District, which must agree to any facility located so close to wetlands. The 53rd Street site brings to mind a homeless shelter and camping ground located on the backsides of hell. Our homeless people, many of them old and medically fragile, would be living and camping on a site adjacent to a cement plant, a diesel yard and a swamp. This site has no sidewalks, no bike trail, no nearby stores, and is not on a bus line. I have privately thought that the NIMBY fighting this location is doing the homeless community a favor.
Still, I have never, until now, spoken out publicly against the 53rd Avenue site. I have too many memories that will haunt me forever. Terry running across Lynch Park screaming, “I am so cold! I am so cold! Please help me!” Jermaine hanging on to the side of the van, his face ashen and twisted, saying, “Please give me some food. I’m in too much pain to stand in line.” An old man coming to my door on a winter morning to ask if I have a warm coat. He tells me, “I walked all night. It was too cold to stand still.” Even a homeless shelter on the backsides of hell is better than nothing at all.
Now it may not come to that. The possibility of a One-Stop Center at this 39th Avenue location is the first ray of hope we have seen in a long, long time. At this point, the homeless community is increasing literally on a weekly basis. A substantial portion of the homeless people are elderly, disabled and suffering from life-threatening illnesses such as cancer and heart disease. As I told the City Commission, those who support and work for this siting of the One-Stop Center will be working to save lives and alleviate suffering.