Gainesville City Commissioners on Thursday unanimously voted to accept an eviction protocol for those in Dignity Village, a homeless camp near the northeast corner of the city.
The decision comes over a year after the Alachua County Board of County Commissioners held a meeting to determine the future of both Grace Marketplace and Dignity Village.
The eviction protocol holds that no one will be arrested for trespassing before the following steps take place:
- On or after April 6, Dignity Village will be closed;
- There will be daily contact with the remaining individuals in Dignity Village a week before the close date;
- On the day before closing the Grace staff will continue to work with campers and give them 24-hour notice;
- On the close date, there will be ongoing engagement and attempts to find shelter prioritization, diversion attempts, or offering of campground space on Grace campus.
“In this eviction procedure, the overarching goal for us, for the folks who are living out there, for (Gainesville police) and for everybody in between is to find a way to close Dignity Village with no arrests,” said Jon DeCarmine, executive director of Grace Marketplace.
Back in May 2019, Alachua County and Gainesville commissioners unanimously agreed to begin closing down Dignity Village and slowly transfer its residents to Grace Marketplace, a homeless shelter about 100 feet away from Dignity Village. The two locations are separated by a chainlink fence.
“It can’t be under told as to what a herculean lift this was to get it done in the time frame,” Mayor Lauren Poe said.
At the beginning of February, city staff implemented 24/7 security that has limited access to Dignity Village to only those individuals on the roster.
According to the timeline presented by DeCarmine, the Grace on-campus campground will open on March 2, which is around 30 days before the target close date of Dignity Village, while Grace staff continues to work with people on the final roster.
“When we had initially presented this to the City and County Commissions, we had set our goal that 6 months after the fence was completed we would have reduced the roster by about 50%, 12 months in we will have 80% reduction in the people on the roster, and within two years we would have provided housing opportunities for each person on that roster,” DeCarmine said.
Of the 222 people who were on the original roster, 120 people remain on the roster, 62 people have been permanently housed, and the remaining 40 are unable to be contacted.
“Where you see unable to contact, those folks are individuals who have not received services, not only in Alachua County but in a five-county area, including Alachua County in 90 days,” DeCarmine said. “That 90-day, no services, is the cutoff for connectivity that the Continuum of Care uses through their coordinated entry system, and we just went ahead and matched how we would handle that to what the Continuum of Care does.”
City Commissioner Harvey Ward suggested the state take legislative action so that every county in Florida is required to provide services to the homeless.
“One of the reasons why we have to provide so much with the city of Gainesville and Alachua County is that the surrounding counties don’t, and they get away with it, and the legislators are fine with that,” Ward said. “If we want some pressure off of us, we have to force some other counties to take something out.”
During the meeting, city commissioners also raised the question of what will happen after April 6 and wondered if the residents who are not moving onto the Grace campus will be moving toward downtown.
According to DeCarmine, of the people they know who have moved elsewhere in the community, they do not have any information that anybody has moved downtown, but have moved near to 39th Avenue to be closer to their social support and the Grace campus.
Kimber Tough, a social worker who works with the homeless, also raised this question.
“When you’re talking about trespassing, you are talking about a person’s right to exist. The city and county need to prepare for where these people can exist,” Tough said. “Prepare to see them.”