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Gainesville’s Dignity Village Had to Shut Off Its Wi-Fi

GRACE Marketplace and Dignity Village lost Wi-Fi access after a series of illegal downloads. (Zoe Haugen/WUFT News).

Illegal downloads recently led GRACE Marketplace to pull the plug on providing free Wi-Fi for residents and campers at Dignity Village.

But during a service visit, a vendor found an unauthorized router, and that too has been shut off, sparking new complaints about the shelter’s lack of Wi-Fi and a lack of resources.

“We would love to be able to provide Wi-Fi out here, but we don’t have any IT support,” said Jonathan DeCarmine, GRACE Marketplace operations director. “We were notified by our Internet service provider that there were people downloading things illegally, and if we didn’t put an end to that, they would turn off Internet to the entire property, which would keep us from being able to do business and provide services.”

He said GRACE would be able to provide Wi-Fi if they could better manage Internet access. Though the center doesn’t have the means to hire IT support, DeCarmine would welcome a volunteer if someone in the community were willing to donate time or equipment to help find a solution.

Theresa Lowe, executive director of the North Central Florida Coalition for the Homeless and Hungry, said she has no plans to turn the Wi-Fi back on. They had some security restrictions in place already, but people found ways around them. She said there can be hefty fees for illegal downloads, and that’s something the center can’t afford.

“We had a couple complaints from our provider and notified everyone, ‘please don’t do this, we’ll end up losing the service,’ and it happened again, so our decision was to disable the Wi-Fi because we would be charged,” Lowe said.

When Wi-Fi was available, most residents used their personal devices, but GRACE also has a computer lab, with five computers open for 12 hours per day. Users can access a computer for 15 minutes before their session times out, which could interrupt a job application or online class. However, longer sessions are available upon request.

Lowe said it’s a difficult situation because “the goal for anyone that’s living here is to leave, and the best way to do that is to increase your income either by finding a job or training.”

Some of the residents told WUFT the computer room is one of their favorite places to read and work.  In February, GRACE will begin using one of its buildings as a classroom.

“We are working on getting it wired for Internet access, and then it will be furnished in a classroom style. We will have up to eight computers and different training in there. The first thing set for the beginning of February is a ‘Financial Fitness’ program and some other online things like resume and job training on campus,” Lowe said.

Those computers will be available only for job seeking and education training, while the original computer room will remain available for personal use.

Since Internet access in the area is limited within the fence, GRACE and Dignity Village residents have had to find Wi-Fi elsewhere at places like the Alachua County Library.

About Zoe Haugen

Zoe is a reporter for WUFT News who may be contacted by calling 352-392-6397 or emailing news @wuft.org

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  1. Rhiannon Fitzgerald

    You’d think the city/county would feel grateful for the service the village provides and send their IT staff to help them setup their system to avoid inappropriate activity just like it’s already set up for the library.

  2. All lies from GRACE administration. They had a tech keeping everything working well, not to mention writing resumes, walking clients through job applications, locating housing, securing grants and loans for school, applying for additional state and federal benefits, etc. The same tech made repairs to administration computers as well. They were advised how to filter websites long before Cox made an issue of it, and DeCarmine personally rejected the plan. The administration claimed it could do a better job and the computers would manage themselves, which claim is false on its face. There never has been another person (or group) to offer regular services, and the “lab” no longer exists as a result of mismanagement. There are still a few computers squeezed into the zoo of a Welcome Center, for clients to play Facebook games and watch pseudo-pornographic YouTube videos. Then again, it’s nearly impossible for those clients to do anything productive in such an environment, much less without help.

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