A formerly unhoused woman hopes the Gainesville City Commission disburses American Rescue funds soon to assist people living on the streets during these colder months.
In 2021, there were 521 homeless people in Alachua County, with 272 remaining unsheltered, according to a Point in Time survey.
Bernice Darby, 61, was among them.
She found herself without housing during the pandemic. She previously lived at GRACE Marketplace, a one-stop homeless resource center serving Gainesville and Alachua County.
She believes the federal funds should be disbursed sooner for programs like homelessness and affordable housing, which can help people currently sleeping out in the cold.
“I stayed homeless for a long time cause I was going through anxiety and depression,” Darby said.
Last year, on March 11, the American Rescue Plan Act was signed into law by President Biden. The stimulus bill provided $5 billion to support state and local programs for the homeless and at-risk individuals. These funds could be used for rental assistance, housing counseling and homelessness prevention services. Additionally, the grants could be allocated by state and local governments to buy and convert commercial properties into permanent shelters or affordable housing.
In December, the Gainesville City Commission unanimously voted that the federal funds be used to address combat violence in the city. They also voted on other community outreach programs.
Commissioner David Arreola had his reservations on using parts of the federal funds for police department requests like the automated ballistics imaging and analysis system.
“Every single department has a wishlist of things that they wish they could afford. I just don’t think it was the right ask,” Arreola said.
Gainesville received half of its federal stimulus funds in July of last year and expects to receive the remaining funds by July, according to Mayor Lauren Poe.
“We received, I believe $2.9 million of that money so far and so we’re going to put it, you know, we’ve already authorized contracts to go to GRACE Marketplace for homeless street outreach. That was a program we’d already started, but now we can supplement it with additional funding,” Arreola said.
Executive Director of GRACE Marketplace Jon DeCarmine declined to comment on the current situation until the federal funds have been disbursed.
But many people can’t wait that long.
“You can get raped out here. People be stabbing people and you can’t sleep because they’re up all-around you, loud music, profanity and all that. It’s too much,” Darby said. She experienced homelessness during the pandemic.
Despite the sense of urgency from those in dire need of assistance, Arreola fears there may not be enough money to fund all the requests.
“I don’t know of any other city that set aside $7 million for local nonprofits. It’s a challenge to have to assess because we had $15 million in requests. Almost twice the amount of what’s available, which means that not everybody is going to get funded,” Arreola said.
When asked if the funds will be available for use before December of 2026, Arreola responded that people need only to be patient.
“Some people, you know, they always think the money’s got to be spent now; it’s really a reflection of the instant gratification we’ve got in this country. But we have time to spend this money,” Arreola said.
However, Darby–and many others facing homelessness–feel differently.
“I feel like they should hurry up because it’s cold, you know, it’s the winter time and with this pandemic going on,” Darby said.
GRACE provides helpful and effective services for anyone experiencing homelessness or those at-risk of losing housing. Many Gainesville residents also seek shelter from the cold at GRACE.
“Being independent and helping myself makes a difference when you have a place,” Darby said.