Updated 6:15 p.m.: The city of Gainesville has leased a portion of Newnans Lake State Forest, which surrounds GRACE Marketplace.
The agreement grants the city the use of 10 acres of land for 50 years at no cost from the Department of Agriculture. The land is currently occupied by the Dignity Village homeless encampment.
In lieu of payment, the state is allowed to use an access road that runs through city property, said Rick Dolan, the Waccasassa Forestry Center Manager.
The Florida Forest Service’s Waccasassa Forestry Center Field Unit was formerly charged with managing the land.
Theresa Lowe, executive director of the North Central Florida Coalition for the Homeless and Hungry, said the lease is meant to give the city greater control over who is allowed to stay on the property.
“We’ve now taken responsibility and liability on the ten acres out there,” said Gainesville City Commissioner Todd Chase.
Lowe said that while most of the residents are well-behaved, troublemakers cause issues every now and then. Previously when the police were called, officers were unable to trespass on those individuals without trespassing on everyone else.
Gainesville Police Department responded to 414 calls at GRACE Marketplace between June 15, 2014 and January 15, 2015, according to GPD.
Wednesday night there were two violent incidents at Dignity Village, one of which left a man hospitalized.
With the area under city control GPD officials said they are looking at ways to increase police presence.
“There’s a finite number of people, so definitely with the recent violence, Dignity is going to get some more patrols,” GPD spokesman Ben Tobias said.
The city will also vote on new rules for the area meant to provide a safer atmosphere for the residents.
Dignity Village formed following the forced eviction of residents from a previous encampment near the Hawthorne Trail last July.
David Cleveland, a resident of Dignity Village, said he welcomed the plan. He said he sees people come to GRACE immediately after being released from jail. The Alachua County Jail is less than a half mile away from GRACE.
Cleveland also said he sees widespread drug use and prostitution, and he believes the city needs to put its foot down if it is serious about making the area a place for people to get their lives together.
“If you have regulations, it’ll create the idea that you have to act a certain way to stay here,” Cleveland said. “You have to make sure they know there are rules and laws out here.”
City Spokesman Bob Woods said the city’s motivation in acquiring the land was to provide a safer atmosphere for residents on the property.
“Without the city having ownership, it becomes difficult to enforce rules and to control camps from spiraling into areas without proper sanitation and health control,” Woods said.
Jon DeCarmine, director of operations at GRACE Marketplace, said they hope the deal will provide a safe environment while allowing residents to access services from GRACE.
“On paper [Dignity Village and GRACE] are two distinct places, but in reality, we provide services to the people out there,” DeCarmine said. “Any improvements to Dignity Village will make what we do here better and more effective.”