A crescendo of compassion resonated throughout How Bazar Thursday night as patrons and community advocates joined for the Battle of the Bands Karaoke Kickoff Party presented by the Greater Gainesville Chamber. The musical mixer supported startGNV and GRACE Marketplace, two organizations on the front lines of Gainesville’s fight to end homelessness.
The party sought to build momentum for the Tech Battle of the Bands scheduled for Aug. 18 at The Wooly hosted by startGNV, an organization supporting the growth of local tech companies. At the event, bands will compete in fundraising for GRACE Marketplace, a nonprofit and one-stop resource center for homelessness services in Gainesville.
StartGNV decided to join forces with GRACE to acknowledge the impact startups have on affordable housing, said Christine Caven, vice president of startGNV.
“Often times, when tech companies become successful in providing jobs, gentrification occurs which displaces individuals,” Caven said.
When rent increases, people can be pushed out of their homes, left without a steady job, a roof over their heads or a place to turn. StartGNV acknowledged this disparity, taking action to give back to its community by collaborating with agents of change across Gainesville like GRACE, she said.
Packed with karaoke and surprise appearances from band members set to perform, the mixer jumpstarted donations for the battle-of-the-bands concert. Last year, the charity concert at The Wooly greeted 423 attendees, exceeding its $15,000 goal by raising over $25,000 toward funding these essential resources, she said.
Now, the company is looking toward the people of Gainesville to reach this year’s $50,000 goal, as GRACE Marketplace is expected to receive 50% less funding from the City of Gainesville.
“It’s pretty ambitious, but the hope for this year is to double the goal to double the impact,” she said.
As part of a 10-year plan to end homelessness, GRACE functions as a service center for resources needed to become permanently homed, said Julie DeCarmine, lead singer of participating band Remote Control and event organizer for GRACE Marketplace.
The nonprofit works to minimize barriers in the housing process, as many homeless individuals hit roadblock after roadblock on the journey to finding a stable home, Julie DeCarmine said.
“For someone without transportation, a bed or an alarm clock, it’s hard to access the services you need all across town,” she said.
Since 2014, GRACE Marketplace has reduced overall homelessness in Gainesville by 47% and unsheltered homelessness by 70%, according to a count from the annual survey conducted by the North Central Florida’s Continuum of Care and mandated by the U.S. Department of Housing & Urban Development.
With over 2,600 people housed and 1 million meals served, it offers basic needs to get those stuck on the streets back on track, like shelter, food, clothing and hygiene products along with its variety of housing services.
“All you need to do is get to GRACE, and from there, you can get your ID, talk to a doctor and caseworker and do everything in one place,” she said.
She said she hopes the kickoff party and battle of the bands event will inspire its attendees to join GRACE Marketplace’s mission in becoming catalysts for positive change.
Early this year, startGNV sent out a call to Gainesville tech companies, asking for the participation of musically-minded employees interested in performing at the battle of the bands event. Each band registered with $500 donation toward GRACE and an opportunity to be crowned winner by raising the highest amount of donations of the night, said Caven.
“You might see your CEO up on stage along with marketing and HR,” she said. “And then, you’ve got your coworkers in the audience cheering them on and donating.”
Accompanied by his colleagues at local tech company Constant Contact, 32-year-old Alex Flinchum is a guitarist and vocalist for one of five bands set to perform. His band, Dog Park Binoculars, has been rehearsing for the past seven weeks and plans to cover an array of fan-favorite songs.
To the Gainesville native, signing up for the competition was a no-brainer; Flinchum attended the event last year and was moved by the electric, on-stage energy of the bands and overwhelming community support, he said.
Additionally, Flinchum served as a volunteer in the GRACE Marketplace kitchen, cooking and serving meals at its shelter.
“Between the amount of love and passion that GRACE puts into this, as well as the results they get back, the success is just admirable beyond belief,” he said.
For Jon DeCarmine, the executive director of GRACE Marketplace, meeting the needs of those being served rather than the needs of the program is the key to successful and smooth operations.
“At GRACE, we don’t require any kind of identification; We don’t require income; We don’t require that you take medication; We don’t require that you have a curfew,” Jon DeCarmine said. “We treat people like adults, and we treat them respectfully.”
He stressed that the public perception of panhandlers can often sway and falsely represent the reality of homelessness. In fact, 60% of those who occupy the nonprofit’s shelter currently hold jobs but cannot afford the housing available to them, he said.
Julianne Raymond, GRACE Marketplace board member and director of the Greater Gainesville Young Professionals, echoed DeCarmine’s remarks.
“I want people to realize that homelessness is not all the myths that are usually associated with it,” Raymond said. “The reality is that most people don’t understand that any of us could be a step away from homelessness, just because of one unfortunate event.”
Raymond said she hopes the work of GRACE, along with its community supporters like startGNV, sheds light on the importance of showing compassion toward strangers who find themselves in an endless sense of predicament.