GRACE Marketplace

by Jon DeCarmine, Director of Operations at GRACE Marketplace

We see homelessness and poverty so much, so often, that it’s easy to be a little bit calloused and jaded about it all. It’s so prevalent that it can start to seem, somehow, normal. We’ve grown accustomed to seeing people sleep on park benches—the woman pushing a shopping cart filled with everything she owns, the guy outside the gas station looking for change. We’re used to looking the other way. We’ve mastered the art of avoiding eye contact—because we have to, because the problem will never go away.

The problem seems so big and insurmountable that it’s hard to imagine that we could ever do anything big enough to really make a difference.

I’ve worked with homeless folks in Gainesville for 19 years, and I still struggle with feeling overwhelmed and jaded most days. Mostly, I feel like a cross between Sisyphus and some sort of cut-rate undertaker, moving one person into housing just in time to watch another roll back down the hill to take their place.

For the first time in my life, and in my career, I feel like we’re actually moving in the right direction, like we’re putting the pieces we need into place to actually make a difference. Finally, we have GRACE Marketplace. Finally, we have a real shot at doing this the right way, meeting people where they’re at and working with them to stop this endless parade of poverty flowing through our shelters, emergency rooms, and parks.

Because of GRACE, we’ve got stories like Wayne’s. He’s a homeless vet who had been living on the Bo Diddley Plaza before moving into Dignity Village, the tent city that has sprung up on the fringes of the GRACE campus. He hooked up with some of our partners to get an apartment after almost a year on the streets and in a tent. Not long after moving in, he was at a bus stop watching a thunderstorm gather on the horizon. He reached down and, feeling the keys in his pocket, started to tear up because he knew that when the storm rolled in, he finally had a place to go.

GRACE is our best shot at ending homelessness in our community. It’s the best chance we’ve had to create a world in which we don’t have to keep looking the other way.

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