WUFT News

Gainesville Police Mark Trees To Assist Homeless

By on February 24th, 2014
William Gough, a Gainesville Police Department officer, tags a tree with green spray paint in order to color-coordinate sections of Sweetwater Branch, a homeless community, during a zoning initiative implemented to improve emergency response times to homeless communities.

Adam Harrington / WUFT News

William Gough, a Gainesville Police Department officer, tags a tree with green spray paint to color-coordinate sections of Sweetwater Branch, a homeless community. These efforts are part of a zoning initiative implemented to improve emergency response times to homeless communities.

Chip Conley will never forget the day he almost died in the woods.

In June 2013, what began as shortness of breath quickly became something worse for Conley. Infection spread throughout his lungs, leaving him with a 102-degree fever and struggling for air.

Conley, a resident of the Sweetwater Branch homeless community, called 911 using a neighbor’s phone.  He stumbled to the front of the wooded plot while throwing up multicolored phlegm along the path, finally reaching the waiting ambulance.

The Gainesville Police Department (GPD) reported an increase in emergency calls from homeless woodland communities, alerting them to the need for faster response times from law enforcement and medical personnel to these areas. As a result, GPD created a new initiative to help people like Conley.

Patrol officers William Gough and Amanda Rodonis created the initiative, which  color-coordinated segments of Sweetwater to gain better recognition of the wooded plot. The goal is to locate a suspect or person in need without confusion.

The trees are spray-painted green, orange and yellow to distinguish different segments.

 A map of the newly-zoned areas within Sweetwater Branch as part of an initiative to bring quicker response times to homeless communities.

Gainesville Police Department

A map of the newly-zoned areas within Sweetwater Branch as part of the initiative.

Ben Tobias, GPD spokesman, said the markings were recently completed and the department is in the process of loading all the maps to dispatch.

Rodonis explained the initiative was originally meant to cover the two predominant tent communities in Gainesville: Sweetwater Branch, near the intersection of Southwest 16th Avenue and Williston Road, and Tent City, which is located behind Calton Dental Lab at 119 SE 11th Ave.

However, complications arose in the Tent City area, Rodonis said.

Larry Calton, owner of Calton Dental Lab and one-third of the property that contains Tent City, did not want the initiative developed there. He said it is a great idea for organizing the woods, but he is concerned it will make the land difficult to sell.

“When somebody comes that might have some interest in the property, and there are 180 homeless people on it in tents and trash everywhere, it just isn’t very appealing for sales,” Calton said.

The Wilkes brothers, who Calton spoke on behalf of, own the rest of the land. The total area of the land is more than five acres, and is located between the University of Florida and Paynes Prairie.

With plans to retire soon, Calton will work with GPD to remove the homeless residents from the area. Warnings will be issued to those found trespassing on the private property, and people who violate the warnings will be removed from the area or arrested.

Although Tent City may no longer be a feasible living area for the homeless, the Sweetwater Branch zoning could lead to a more permanent residency for them.

“By marking the tree areas with different colors, it will give first responders a chance to know pretty much exactly where they are,” Tobias said. “We’re kind of creating a neighborhood, so to speak, in the tent camp area.”

A few Sweetwater residents have voiced their concerns about the initiative and police involvement, but some believe it will help the community become a safer place. Resident Douglas Ashcraft views the initiative as positive.

“We’ve had guys have to go to the hospital. We’ve had people who had to be picked up for doing something wrong,” Ashcraft said. “We’ve had all kinds of stuff happen out here and for the ones having to do it – yes, it’s a good thing.  I have no problem with it.”


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

More Stories in Local

The drop box for letters to Santa stands at the left entrance of the Gainesville Post Office. Mail handlers check the drop box for submissions four to five times a day.

Operation Santa Seeks Benefactors

Gainesville Post Office participates in the Santa Operation program for the first time. The program started receiving letters from across the country starting Dec. 2, and it will match the benefactors until Monday.


Alachua County migrant children receive gifts from the Angel Tree charity project last Christmas. 

Photo courtesy of Alachua County Multi-County Migrant Education program.

Angel Tree Shines Light On Migrant Families

The Angel Tree Charity Project helps make sure struggling migrant families have a normal Christmas. Hundreds of families are helped with the charity project.


Newnans Lake, shown here near 7400 E. University Ave., in Gainesville, Fla.

Alachua County Receives Florida’s 36th State Forest

The 1,000-plus acres of diverse land west of Newnans Lake in Gainesville will provide bicycle and hiking trails for the public in spring 2015.


The Rerun team prepares 233 shoes to ship to Native American reservations in South Dakota later in December.

Old Shoes Find New Life Thanks to Oak Hall

“We started off as a drop off spot where people could bring old shoes when they bought a new pair, or bring back a defective pair,” Carillo said. “It grew more and more through word of mouth, and now people know to bring their shoes to us.”


A Bread of the Mighty Food Bank employee stocks the warehouse shelves with dry food donated by a local grocery.

Florida Food Banks Suffer As State Grant Runs Out

As the number of food insecure households rise, local food banks see a rapid decline in food supply from Florida’s government grant 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
Day Sponsorship Payments
Underwriting Payments