GRACE Marketplace celebrated its first year serving the homeless community with birthday cake and refreshments. It’s a place where the homeless can eat, sleep, receive clothing and do laundry, services to help them get back on their feet.
GRACE is part of a 10-year plan, which began in December 2005, to end homelessness. Theresa Lowe, executive director of the Alachua County Coalition for the Homeless and Hungry, said the community sees about 400 people each month, and more than one thousand individuals in their first year.
Dormitories at GRACE provide indoor sleeping for some people. An outdoor pavilion provides shelter for 56 others. Two more dorms are not being used because they are in need of repairs.
The Coalition also services Dignity Village, a tent community on city-owned land outside of GRACE.
“Once you are on our side of the fence, you are our client regardless of where you put your head at night,” Lowe said.
The Coalition met with the public Tuesday to discuss how to improve GRACE, after holding their own two-day session on the issue.
Lowe said she wanted to know, “What are our weaknesses? What are our strengths? What do we need to really make this into the showcase that we know it can be?”
In the next year, Lowe said they will hopefully have a kitchen for residents to cook their own meals, which might also allow GRACE to provide lunch to its clients. They currently only serve breakfast and dinner.
They also plan to run a job-training program, according to Lowe. They already offer GED classes and resume assistance.
And, she said, they need to get their fundraising on track.
The University of Florida’s Mobile Outreach Clinic services GRACE clients, but the clinic on the GRACE campus is closed.
Lowe said they hope to eventually have it up and running, but the building was not built to ADA standards. Renovations would cost between an estimated $600,000 and $700,000.
“There is so much potential here, so many possibilities that we want to be able to take advantage of,” Lowe said. “Unfortunately, most of that takes money,”
Some residents have their own ideas about what GRACE should do.
Dwane Alfonso Coney said GRACE should consider adding more leisure activities and security if it receives more funding, but does think GRACE is doing the best it can with the money it has.
Coney said many people are not aware of the mental illness backgrounds of some Grace residents.
“People may get hurt out here,” he said.
Dignity Village resident Wendy Wells said she also hopes to have more running water. But she said, overall, others can learn a lesson from Grace about “people helping people” and turning words into action.
Lowe agreed, saying the entire Gainesville community benefits from Grace, including landlords and employers.
“It’s been a win for a lot of different people,” Lowe said, “And it’s the right thing to do.”