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Gainesville is offering shelter to people without housing, heating this winter

A homeless encampent at the old Fire Station 1 off South Main Street in downtown Gainesville, June 16, 2021. (Walter Harwood/WUFT News)
A homeless encampent at the old Fire Station 1 off South Main Street in downtown Gainesville, June 16, 2021. (Walter Harwood/WUFT News)

People in Gainesville experiencing homelessness will have more places to stay as fall’s low temperatures settle in.

The city of Gainesville’s Cold Night Shelter Program enlists the services of GRACE Marketplace and St. Francis House to offer shelter to those without warm housing when colder winter nights pose a serious health threat, like hypothermia and frostbite.

St. Francis House CEO Lauri Schiffbauer said she hopes it gives people a sense of relief during their struggle with homelessness.

“It’s respite,” Schiffbauer said. “It’s being able to take a break from having to survive living on the street.”

The program takes place when temperatures are expected to be below 45 degrees as well as during inclement weather including hurricanes and tornadoes. Schiffbauer said they make sure people are notified by posting in Facebook groups that many people experiencing homelessness frequent as well as posting a sign on the door of St. Francis House letting people know the program is taking effect that night. 

City of Gainesville Public Information Officer Rossana Passaniti said anyone who does not have proper heating is welcome to make use of the Cold Night Shelter Program’s offer, not just those experiencing homelessness.

“They may be individuals who are experiencing homelessness, they may be someone whose indoor heat may not be working, or they don’t have central heat,” Passaniti said. “They’re welcome in the shelters too.”

According to Schiffbauer, people will need what is known as a blue card from the Gainesville Police Department to seek shelter at St. Francis House, which ensures that someone does not have any outstanding warrants for their arrest.

While Schiffbauer said she is grateful to be able to provide temporary shelter to people who have nowhere to stay, she thinks there needs to be more done to address the issue of homelessness in the first place.

She said she believes the efforts of GRACE Marketplace and St. Francis House will always be needed, but while they work on the problems at hand, she wants to see attention turned toward affordable housing.

“It’s not a matter of one or the other, it’s a matter of really being mindful and working toward the bigger solution while we’re providing those services,” Schiffbauer said.

Passaniti echoed this sentiment and said the city is committed to affordable housing.

“At the end of the day, we believe that the only way to end homelessness is through housing,” she said.

GRACE Marketplace and St. Francis House will provide shelter to those who need it on all nights that meet the 45 degree standard for the program.

Those in need of housing assistance or emergency shelter can call GRACE Marketplace at 352-792-0800 or St. Francis House at 352-378-9079.

Sydney is a reporter for WUFT News who can be reached by calling 352-392-6397 or emailing news@wuft.org.