As the number of residents living at Dignity Village increases, so do concerns for the safety of both residents and emergency responders.
In response to a letter written by the Florida Police Benevolent Association (PBA) to Gainesville Mayor Ed Braddy, City Manager Russ Blackburn and Gainesville Police Chief Tony Jones, a meeting held Tuesday addressed the concerns and dangers inherent with the continued operation of Dignity Village.
The community, located off Northeast 39th Avenue next to Grace Marketplace, is home to an estimated 250 homeless people. Most residents sleep in tents in the immediate surrounding area.
According to the letter, there is a “growing danger for Gainesville citizens, the occupants of the village and emergency service personnel.” Arrests for violent crimes, drug dealing, prostitution and methamphetamine production create safety issues for those living in the area as well as those responding to the cases.
“At this location right now, it is kind of a free-for-all as far as who is moving out there. People are setting up electrical areas, generators, chords running in the ground, some people are building permanent structures,” Mike Schibuola, a union representative for the local chapter of the PBA who also works for GPD, said
These concerns were heightened in April after a stabbing incident within the community just twelve hours before a similar event involving a machete.
“Unfortunately we hear about a lot of the problems, so we do know that there have been some attacks and some violent episodes, as well as some other antisocial behavior that has become very problematic,” Braddy said in an interview after the meeting. “We are aware of it and are trying to address it by increasing police presence, perhaps having a defined presence in the area of police officers as opposed to having them just respond to calls.”
Although incidents continue to occur daily, hope to decrease these numbers remains.
“Right now when this problem is early in its infancy, you can take steps to kind of fix it and get it where it needs to go before it gets to this huge issue that you can’t fix,” Schibuola said.
The matter of who has jurisdiction to enforce laws on the 10-acre plot of land has been an issue in the past, but recent changes make it possible for the City of Gainesville to regulate the land.
“As of May 7th, we have taken jurisdictional control of it through a lease with the state,” Braddy said. “It is still the state’s property but we have the ability to promulgate rules and enforce those rules, so that is what we are going to try to do now.