WUFT News

Former Prison To Turn Into Homeless Shelter, Expand Nature Center

By , and on November 20th, 2013

Each night in Gainesville, about 2,000 people seek shelter with friends, on sidewalks, or in parks. Sometimes, they have all of their belongings slung in a bag.

Gov. Rick Scott and the Florida Cabinet approved a proposal on Tuesday in which the City of Gainesville would buy former Gainesville Correctional Institution  and convert it into a new center to serve the homeless.

The front entrance to the prison, where each person will be checked in by a volunteer in the admission booth on the left.

Kasey Greenhalgh / WUFT News

The front entrance to the former prison, where homeless people will be checked in by a volunteer in the admission booth on the left.

The city plans to use the closed jail site, located on Northeast 39th Avenue, for a One-Stop Homeless Assistance Center. The sale of the former prison comes after eight years of planning and would cost nearly $1.4 million.

Gainesville City Commissioner Randy Wells said he hopes the new facility will be a new community asset.

“We plan to transform the closed Gainesville Correction Institution into a community asset for job training, entrepreneurship and empowerment with a focus on homeless empowerment but not by any means limited to that,” he said.

The facility is intended to provide services like case management, meals, housing, life-skills training and much more.

Converting the prison

The city is looking for groups to head the conversion from correctional facility to homeless shelter, and the Alachua County Coalition for the Homeless and Hungry is the top contender for the job.

Executive Director Theresa Lowe said the new homeless shelter will provide services the homeless need but aren’t getting right now.

“We really don’t have much in the way of emergency shelter,” Lowe said.

The inside of the living quarters are not yet furnished. The city plans to line the area with bunks. Men and women will live in separate quarters.

Kasey Greenhalgh / WUFT News

The inside of the living quarters are not yet furnished. The city plans to line the area with bunks. Men and women will live in separate quarters.

St. Francis House and the Interfaith Hospitality Network are also options, but their limited bed numbers leave people sleeping on Bo Community Diddley Plaza, she said.

Storage for homeless people in Gainesville is another concern, Lowe said.

“People don’t have a place to keep their belongings, so they hang on to them and carry them around with them in big black plastic bags,” she said. “And it looks like the plastic’s just full of trash, when really it’s not trash – it’s actually everything someone owns in the world.”

The correctional facility provides enough space to meet the varied demands of the city’s homeless, Lowe said.

“We’re talking about taking one dormitory that used to house 140 people and putting in 100 people for emergency shelter, and then using the other three dormitories possibly for some different types of transitional housing with different programs,” Lowe said.

Possible programs include one for veterans and another for ex-offenders, she said.

Transportation to and from

One homeless man, David, lived in Gainesville his entire life and is disabled. He said the shelter will be too far away for people like himself to realistically use it.

“They ain’t got no way to get out there,” David said. “What are they going to do? Walk out there five miles? You know, it ain’t going to happen.”

But Lowe said plans are in place for reliable transportation to and from the shelter.

“If we could work out schedules, maybe we can take people to their doctor’s appointments or out to Shands and stuff like that,” Lowe said. “The bus will probably be busy all day long.”

The Alachua County Coalition for the Homeless and Hungry will know Dec. 5 whether it will be the organization to spearhead the creation of the homeless shelter. Lowe said if the City Commission approves the coalition’s plan, the emergency shelter should be up and running by the beginning of the year.

The property has been vacant since the Department of Corrections closed the prison in March 2012. The center will use about 35 out of the 133.21 acres of land.

Morningside Nature Center

In addition, 98 acres will be used to expand the Morningside Nature Center. Linda Demetropoulos, nature operations manager for the City of Gainesville Parks, Recreation and Cultural Affairs, said the purchased land will be used to create more nature trails.

While most people come to take advantage of walking, jogging, or even bird watching on the nature trails, she said this expansion could mean more activities for the nature center.

Related: A Tour of Gainesville’s Prison-Turned-Homeless Shelter


This entry was posted in Local and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.
 

More Stories in Local

Christiana Ramirez, a 25-year-old devotee for two months, chants during a kirtan ceremony at the Hare Krishna Temple in Alachua on Sunday, May 21. "I didn't get through the first round, and I had these tears of blissful joy coming down my face," she said. "And I cannot describe the feeling this day, it's such a strong feeling. And when you feel that, you know there is a God."

Devotees Turn To Krishna Lifestyle For Solace

Some Gainesville residents find the Hare Krishna philosophy peaceful and cathartic. Other however, remain wary of its legitimacy.


IMG_0451

City To Renovate Park’s Restrooms

The city of Gainesville plans to renovate the restrooms at Kiwanis Challenge Park. Renovations are expected to begin July 13 and should be completed in the next 60 to 75 days.


Jeremy Johnson, an Iraq veteran, and his wife, Kelly, tend to the goats at 10 CAN Farm. By learning how to work with the goats, each one which has a different personality, Johnson has learned how to interact with people.

10 CAN Eases War Veteran Back Into Civilian Life

Three-time war veteran Jeremy Johnson suffers from spinal cord injuries and post-traumatic stress disorder. 10 CAN, a Christian Adventure Network that works to help veterans and first responders, is easing him back into civilian life.


Tygur Scott, the 34-year-old lead advocate coordinator in Dignity Village, picks up trash littering the village's wash basin area. Scott, alongside his group of volunteers known as community advocates, works to keep Dignity Village clean and mediate disputes between residents whenever they might arise.

Resident Volunteers Keep Dignity Village Standing

Community volunteers, like Tygur Scott, help clean and maintain Dignity Village. Dignity Village’s future is not clear, but the volunteer group’s work helps until the city figures out how to manage the tent neighborhood, according to Lieutenant Rob Koehler of the Gainesville City Police Department.


Troy Butler, former UF football player, said, "Why am I going to waste time on a bust when I can go on my bike twice as fast?"

Gainesville Riders Hope To Start Bike-Sharing Program

Shane Hartley and Troy Butler choose to ride their bikes to work because they know the health and environmental benefits of biking. In order to unite people like them, the Gainesville Citizens for Active Transportation want to start a bike-sharing program.


Thank you for your support

WUFT depends on the support of our community — people like you — to help us continue to provide quality programming to North Central Florida.
Become a Sustainer
I want to support FM 89.1/NPR
I want to support Florida's 5/PBS
Donate a Vehicle
Underwriting Payments