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Despite Positive Statewide Unemployment Trend, Homelessness Rising In Gainesville

By on September 25th, 2013
A man stands among the bags and luggage at  Bo Diddley Community Plaza Monday, an occasional meeting place for the homeless population in Gainesville.

Stephanie Fuenmayor / WUFT News

A man stands among the bags and luggage at Bo Diddley Community Plaza, a regular meeting place for Gainesville’s homeless population.

Jerry Rowley spends most his nights at Bo Diddley Community Plaza.

He said he moved to Gainesville from Marion County three months ago for more jobs opportunities. He worked for two weeks at a landscaping job but is now unemployed.

Rowley is among the nearly 700 homeless people who’ve relocated to Alachua County within the last year, increasing the homeless population nearly 59 percent despite a drop of 17.5 percent statewide and a decrease in Florida’s unemployment rate, according to the Council on Homelessness 2013 report.

“Losing a job is the key to wind up being homeless,” said Michael Stoops, director of community organizing at the National Coalition for the Homeless. “Likewise, getting a job is the key to getting out of homelessness.”

Stoops, who’s familiar with Gainesville’s “unique homeless characteristics,” said that nationally 40 percent of homeless people work either full time or part time.

While the homelessness and unemployment rates are not directly connected, the two opposing trends provide an interesting contrast.

Alachua County’s unemployment rate of 6 percent was lower than surrounding counties of Levy (8.7 percent), Marion (8.3 percent), Columbia (7 percent) and Putnam (10 percent), according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics July report.

Still, more people are out on Gainesville’s streets.

Like Rowley, John Fiorvante also spends most nights in the plaza. The 51-year-old is a veteran who moved to the city around six months ago.

Homeless veterans seem to migrate to the city from bordering areas as it provides a bigger range of services and programs to help them out, said Major Stroupe, veteran services director at the Alachua County community support services.

“Gainesville is more of a hub of services,” he said.

Nasim Bowlus, special events coordinator at the Gainesville Salvation Army, said the organization assists nine counties in the area but most services are only available in Gainesville. The company goes to other counties usually for emergencies.

The amount of inquiries for social services has increased from 200 to 450 this year, she said.

Bowlus said programs to keep people at their home, such as providing once-a-year assistance to pay a portion of their electrical bills and offering clubs for at-risk youth, have expanded to accommodate the demand.

Theresa Lowe, executive director at the Alachua County Coalition for the Homeless and Hungry said, while more people are finding jobs now, the amount of homeless people hasn’t been a discernibly effected.

“The economy took a big dip, and the jobs that have come back are not really living — wage jobs,” she said. “We have a lot of people that are working every day but can’t afford to get into housing.”

The coalition reported 2,286 homeless people in its 2013 count of homeless people in the county, 192 more people without a home compared to last year’s amount of 2,094.

Alachua reported 1,745 homeless people in 2013. In 2012 it reported 1,034, according to Council on Homelessness Report for the Florida Department of Children and Families.

Based on that report, Alachua and Orange counties are the ones with the highest increase in homeless population statewide.

The number of homeless people being counted can change according to the definition of homelessness being used, Lowe said. A family who lost its house but lives at a relative’s house may be described as homeless under different definitions.

Arupa Freeman, coordinator for the Home Van, a volunteer program that bring food and living supplies to the local homeless, has been heavily involved in fighting homelessness and hunger since September 2002.

Freeman said she has noticed the homeless population she helps “has doubled since last May.” Homeless veterans used to be a big portion in the homeless population, she said, but the number has reduced.


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