Peter Dannenhoffer has lived at Dignity Village for two years. The 54-year-old former firefighter knows from experience how to weather through the cold weeks.
“When it comes down to it, you learn,” said Dannenhoffer. “You learn, or you get cold.”
Gainesville homeless shelters GRACE Marketplace, St. Francis House and Empowerment Center have opened their doors Thursday and Friday night to allow people to sleep inside as the temperature drops below 45 degrees.
Residents at Dignity Village, a homeless camp next to GRACE Marketplace, sometimes try to weather cold nights at the shelters. However, there isn’t always space for everybody.
St. Francis House on Main Street typically provides shelter for women, children and families, while GRACE Marketplace on Northeast 28th Avenue is for individual adults. The shelters will provide a warm place to stay overnight, as well as additional services such as food, showers and laundry, according to a City of Gainesville statement.
Because space is still limited, people like Dannenhoffer opt to stay outdoors in their makeshift shelters and tents.
“You learn to layer,” Dannenhoffer said, who wears two to three pants of different sizes to say warm on especially cold nights. Clothes donations from the community have been particularly helpful for Dannenhoffer.
“Gainesville is a very generous community – I truly believe this.”
Dannenhoffer also said he has learned how to set up his tent to keep it warmer, putting up tarps to break the wind so it doesn’t blow through his tent.
Tom McDaniel, another resident of Dignity Village, said that instead of going indoors, he would prefer to sleep in his car instead of sleeping on the floor of the GRACE Marketplace welcome center.
“My SUV is plenty warm enough,” McDaniel said. “I’m content out here.”
The Cold Night Shelter Program will be in effect until the overnight low temperatures get above 45 degrees, according to the City of Gainesville statement.
Dannenhoffer said he wished that GRACE Marketplace made more of the dormitory buildings available to the homeless during the colder weeks of winter.
“I can understand that there might not be enough staff at night, but that’s the time we need staff the most – on cold shelter nights,” he said.
However, he acknowledged that conditions could be worse for the Dignity Village residents if they lived in a colder climate.
“You can survive these things,” said Dannenhoffer. “You can. This is Florida.”
The Cold Night Shelter Program typically runs from Nov. 1 through March 31. Funding for the program is provided by the City of Gainesville, Alachua County and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.