With temperatures in North Central Florida plunging to 30 degrees Fahrenheit, Alachua County’s homeless population is seeking shelter from the elements.
Bo Diddley Plaza downtown was starkly empty Wednesday morning, as most who normally sleep there looked for warmer arrangements. Only a few remained.
Commodore Mullet and his dog Missy slept bundled together in a sleeping bag and a tarp. Mullet wore three layers of jackets, two pairs of thermal leggings, pants, two pairs of socks, gloves and a hat to keep warm.
Not wanting to abandon his small black-and-white companion, he did not seek to sleep at St. Francis House a few blocks over. Mullet also voiced his displeasure with the shelter, saying he feels unwelcome there.
“We shouldn’t be treated like we’re a lesser person,” he said of himself and other homeless residents.
With temperatures this week approximately 20 degrees below average, according to UF meteorologist Jeff Huffman, the recently opened Grace Marketplace shelter off Waldo Road felt pressure to open more indoor sleeping areas.
The shelter opens up its welcome center for nightly accommodation when the temperature drops below 45 degrees at night, according to Jonathan DeCarmine, Director of Operations for the North Central Florida Coalition for the Homeless and Hungry.
Grace Marketplace had 26 people come sleep in the center Tuesday night, the coldest night the area has seen this season. The shelter can accommodate more people, but not many are willing to move inside for the night. Over 100 people live in tents surrounding the campus.
However, some are not apt to leave their tents for fear of leaving their belongings vulnerable to theft.
“Coming inside means leaving everything you own behind in that tent,” DeCarmine said.
Some people bond together as a means to combat the cold by sleeping near each other in trucks or in tents. James Bell, Jeff Cheroki, Joe Davis and Mark Lewis do just that.
“Everybody in this camp is like a family,” Bell said. “We help each other out.”
They keep a fire going with firewood they gather and share blankets.
Cheroki plans on moving into an apartment as soon as his disability check arrives from Colorado.
“This is a temporary situation, but for a temporary situation this is ideal,” he said of staying with his three friends in their camp.
They all spoke of the kindness of the employees at Grace Marketplace and how they provided services for them, especially for the cold nights.
“They don’t put you down,” Cheroki said.