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Resident Volunteers Keep Dignity Village Standing

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Most mornings volunteers go out to do the jobs nobody else in Dignity Village wants to do: throw out garbage, pick up litter or mediate arguments.

The faces change every few weeks. Homelessness, after all, is a fluid state; people come and go as often as their luck changes. But when one volunteer leaves another soon takes his or her place.

Tygur Scott, 34, is the resident responsible for organizing the group of community volunteers who help keep the camp clean and running as smoothly as possible.

Tygur Scott, the 34-year-old lead advocate coordinator in Dignity Village, picks up trash littering the village's wash basin area. Scott, alongside his group of volunteers known as community advocates, works to keep Dignity Village clean and mediate disputes between residents whenever they might arise.
Tygur Scott, the 34-year-old lead advocate coordinator in Dignity Village, picks up trash littering the community’s wash basin area. Scott, alongside his group of volunteers known as community advocates, works to keep Dignity Village clean and mediates disputes between residents whenever they arise. Andres Leiva / WUFT

He wears utilitarian camouflage pants and a score of shiny rings on his fingers when he works. A wide-brim hat usually shades his face, and in between trips to the dumpster, he puffs on Lucky Strike cigarettes.

Scott’s history with what would become Dignity Village began around the time campers living in the informal neighborhood known as “Tent City,” just south of the Gainesville-Hawthorne State Trail, were being evicted from the wooded property.

“When I first got here, Dignity Village didn’t even exist,” he said, sitting underneath a tarp in the Occupy Gainesville campsite, the unofficial headquarters of Scott and his group of volunteers, who are known as community advocates. He reckons he began helping people move out to the property bordering GRACE Marketplace in May 2014.

There were no zones or rules regarding campsite placement back then, he said. The land Dignity Village now sits on was not even leased by the city, and there were no large organizations providing logistical and organizational support to residents.

Things are different now.

Randy Stacey, director of the Helping Hands Clinic, walks alongside Scott down one of the asphalt pathways that run around the inner perimeter of the camp. They read numbers off a clipboard as they walk and compare them against the actual count of tents and residents.

Stacey is a common sight around Dignity Village. His organization visits the community on a weekly basis, bringing supplies and offering medical services to those in need.

The work performed by Scott and the advocates is extremely important to Helping Hands, Stacey said. Because the advocates reside in the village, they can give informed estimates of the camp’s population at any given time, and they’re up-to-date on problems plaguing residents.

Stacey isn’t the only one relying on the advocates for their knowledge of the inner workings of Dignity Village.

Lieutenant Rob Koehler of the Gainesville Police Department also highlights the importance of the advocates’ insider knowledge.

“Tygur’s been great,” Koehler said. “He’s been someone I can come and talk to. We need that liaison, as many as we can get.”

He said the identity and purpose of Dignity Village is not clear yet, but the volunteer group’s work helps buy some time until the city figures out how to manage the tent neighborhood, a question that has become one of the biggest issues the community advocates face.

The Gainesville City Commission has been negotiating a contract with Helping Hands for up to $50,000 to grant the organization management of Dignity Village.

The Empowerment Center Oversight Advisory Board recommended the county provide $25,000 to share the cost equally with the city commission, said communications and legislative affairs director for Alachua County Mark Sexton, in an email. But in June, the board decided to wait to discuss the funding until budget workshops take place later in July.

For now, there are every day problems to deal with.

In the yard where Scott constructed a pair of makeshift showers, a volunteer helps him free a trashcan from a chain securing it to a shower column.

It’s been here for a few days, Scott explains, and the combination lock won’t come free. They struggle to snap the chain with a pair of pliers. After a few violent shakes, the chain snaps and they grin.

The volunteer offers to take the trash can to the dumpster. His name is Scott Paris, and he speaks in a Kentucky drawl.

The 34-year-old started helping out Tygur Scott late last year with some of the chores around camp: transporting trash, clearing abandoned tents, sorting donations, that sort of thing, he said.

If you were to see him hauling the trash can to the dumpster, you might wonder why he does it. The trash smells awful, the can is awkward to carry, and the dumpster is so far away. But if you ask him, he’ll just tell you that he likes helping people.

About Andres Leiva

Andres is a reporter for WUFT News and can be contacted by calling 352-392-6397 or emailing news@wuft.org.

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