Gainesville, Alachua County Explore Taking Over Empowerment Center

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The city of Gainesville and Alachua County are conducting a study to determine if the Empowerment Center should be managed by the city and county collectively or by its current manager, the North Florida Coalition for the Homeless and Hungry.

The study’s results are expected by July and will show how much it will cost the city and county to take over.

For now, the center, which encompasses GRACE Marketplace homeless shelter and Dignity Village homeless campsite, is managed by the coalition at a cost of slightly more than $1 million annually, said Theresa Lowe, the coalition’s executive director.

City Commissioner Helen Warren said the study will look at the cost-effectiveness of providing good care for the people of Dignity Village and GRACE. The main dilemma, she said, is whether it’s more cost-effective to have city staff providing services instead of the coalition.

Lowe said she believes the coalition is more cost-efficient because it’s more flexible and can make changes quicker than the government. This cuts out certain delays, such as extra meetings. 

Another major cost-saver Lowe mentioned is the funds provided by grants that take care of, for example, her own salary.

“I think it’s a good study, though, and they may find things that will help us to be more cost-effective,” Lowe said.

If the center moves into government hands, Warren said city staff would have certain day-to-day responsibilities, such as maintaining the Empowerment Center, locating coordination contacts with medical services and providing food and a safe place for the residents.  

“The scale that we’re jumping up to with this endeavor just goes so far beyond what the city and county have supported in the past,” Warren said.

Robert Rapp, an Empowerment Center resident, said he would prefer the local government to manage the Empowerment Center.

“I feel that if it would be run by the government, residents and myself would be better served here,” Rapp said. “They’ll be able to provide more services, more staff members and better services for the residents that live here.”

Joey Schatt contributed reporting

About Jacob Embuscado

Jacob is a reporter who can be contacted by calling 352-392-6397 or emailing news@wuft.org.

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