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The COVID-19 pandemic has caused the latest in a series of delays to the closing of Dignity Village, a homeless tent camp in Gainesville.
GRACE Marketplace, the adjacent shelter, is facilitating the closure. The executive director of GRACE, Jon DeCarmine, said the homeless camp was on track to close by the latest deadline of April 6, until a few weeks ago.
“All of the motion of the plan halted when we started addressing how we were gonna keep the campus safe from coronavirus.”
DeCarmine said the coronavirus forced GRACE to pause the rest of the move-ins to the on-campus campground that opened on March 2.
“Sixty-three people already moved into a campground on our campus. There are, however, 23 people who still are living in Dignity Village.”
Those 23 people are currently on a waitlist to be moved out of Dignity Village and into the campground. According to DeCarmine, this was the best decision for everyone at GRACE during this time.
“We’ve got a lot of people here who are elderly and medically vulnerable and their safety is our first priority, so the project is still moving along but we made a decision that it didn’t make sense for us to move everybody closer together if we didn’t have to.”
He said just because Dignity Village didn’t close on time, doesn’t mean the project failed.
“As the coronavirus started to affect Alachua County, we would’ve had 300 people in close quarters in Dignity Village, and because of the work we were able to do on the project up until this point we’ve had a much smaller group of people who were at risk.”
DeCarmine pointed out that the homeless population is, in general, more medically vulnerable and has less access to health care and preventative measures.
“It raises a lot of really big public health questions,” he said, “like how do you ask somebody to stay home when they don’t have a home?”
Along with continuing to follow CDC guidelines, DeCarmine is open to finding other ways to keep clients safe.
“We’re really glad that GRACE is here to be able to provide a safe place for people to be, and we’re going to continue to do everything we can to make sure that the campus is as safe as possible for anyone who needs it.”
For now, Dignity Village will remain open until DeCarmine can safely move those 23 people.
“Our plan is still to close Dignity Village as quickly as possible, but we’re committed to only moving forward when we can do that in a way that doesn’t put people’s health at risk.”
DeCarmine is monitoring local and national guidance from authorities on when the project can continue.