A Florida Department of Corrections liaison tried about a dozen keys before he found the right one that would open the door to the main courtyard at the shuttered prison in the 2800 block of NE 39th Avenue.
Unlike the old prisons in movies, this one is rather different. Replacing big stone walls are chain linked fences. No barbed wire. The area surrounding the facility are woods about a mile down the road from the Gainesville Regional Airport.
This prison is in the backyard of a small correctional institute. This is where the city of Gainesville’s Commissioners plan to turn a shambled former prison into a functioning homeless community.
Joe Jackson, an advocate for the homeless and professor at the University of Florida’s Law School, said it’s ironic the city is turning an old prison into a homeless facility and he hopes they take the bars off the doors before people live there.
“Gainesville is so spread out it would be nice to have someone with everything all in one,” he said.
The corrections liaison said many homeless people live in the woods around the prison already.
But he also said if many of them move next door to the correctional institution, there could be conflict between the homeless and those at their institute competing for jobs. Like the homeless, most people who attend the correctional institute only have bikes or ride the bus as their source of transportation. Gainesville Mayor Ed Braddy said it hasn’t been a concern yet.
Braddy explains more about the project’s future below.