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A new project looks to create permanent homes as Gainesville grapples with finding temporary housing for the homeless

Scottish Inn sign will likely be torn down soon in effort to take one step toward ending homelessness in Gainesville. (Kennedy Mason/WUFT News)
Scottish Inn sign will likely be torn down soon in effort to take one step toward ending homelessness in Gainesville. (Kennedy Mason/WUFT News)

Alachua County is struggling with the homeless population in Gainesville. However, the Alachua County Commission proposed to buy the Scottish Inn, a local motel in town, and turn it into a permanent supportive housing facility for homeless people.

Gainesville has 625 homeless people, as of a 2022 count. To house them, Gainesville has two main homeless shelters that together can hold about 214 people. Outside of Gainesville, some Alachua County agencies are in the process of converting two motels into permanent supportive housing. Those facilities are planned for 4341 SW 13th St. and 4401 SW 13th St.

“We have a list of over 150 people that are in need of housing at any given time, and that list is probably a lot greater because it doesn’t even include the housing authorities and other people who do affordable housing,” said Anna Prizzia, an Alachua County commissioner.

However, Alachua County is taking one step forward to reach its goal of getting people off the streets by creating more permanent affordable housing units for the homeless population and for those in need.

The county already owns the Budget Inn which has been bought and remains in need of renovations to become permanent supportive housing as the county waits for state funds.

The Scottish Inn proposed permanent housing for homeless residents in Gainesville for almost $1.8 million dollars on Nov. 14.

“Whenever you're looking at a project like this, it always starts with a willing seller,” Alachua County Communications Director Mark Sexton said. “We discovered that the owner of the motel was interested in talking to us about it, and that's what culminated in the purchase of the property.”

County officials say they plan to convert the motel into 31 permanent units to provide housing for the homeless. Rent would be 30% of a tenant’s income.

Since the approval on Nov. 14, there have not been any residents who have signed papers.

That’s because the inn is still waiting for a contract to be signed.

According to Claudia Tuck, director of community support services for Alachua County, the county is still reviewing whether they can purchase it.

“If all goes through, Dec. 20 is likely when it will close,” she said.

After the deal closes, there will be an architectural and engineering review to see what the county needs to do with the hotel, how much it will cost and how much the county will need from a grant. This will allow the county to figure out what kind of renovations can be done.

The actual project from start to finish is expected to be completed in 2025, according to Sexton.

The Scottish Inn also would come with an additional two and a half acres attached, which Tuck said could be used for tiny homes or additional housing if there is extra money left over after renovations.

Currently, the St. Francis House is a homeless shelter and soup kitchen in Gainesville, with 40 people sheltered there.

“I don’t think our homeless community members are a major problem,” said Lauri Schiffbauer, St. Francis House Executive Director. “I think limited affordable housing for our homeless is a major problem. Until there is no homelessness, we as a community should be concerned.”

The St. Francis House provides temporary shelter for single women and families with children at its emergency shelter. But does have two permanent housing options.

Extremely low-income single women and men may be housed at the Sunrise Inn Residence, located about five minutes from UF Health Shands Hospital.

For extremely low-income single women with or without children, the St. Francis House provides two-year transitional permanent, supportive housing. Residents pay 30% of their income, which is similar to what the Scottish Inn plans to do.

“Our county needs more affordable housing for extremely low and poverty level community members,” said Schiffbauer.

Schiffbauer said she thinks people from the St. Francis House will try to apply to get into the new homeless housing unit at the Scottish Inn, if approved.

“On average, 30 to 40% of our shelter guests need permanent supportive housing,” Schiffbauer said.

GRACE Marketplace is also a homeless shelter in Gainesville that offers housing and basic needs for people living on the streets.

They have a 100-bed emergency shelter program that temporarily gives people access to shelter without having to meet requirements.

In October, 174 people were sheltered at GRACE's 100-bed emergency shelter.

GRACE has day services that include warm showers, hot meals and a brand-new set of clothes from its clothing boutique.

GRACE does have a permanent housing option for people who are “most likely to die on the street if they’re not helped immediately,” according to its website.

The St. Francis House and GRACE Marketplace mainly serve as emergency shelters, which are essential.

“What they do is valuable,” Sexton said. “GRACE, for example, is primarily funded by the city of Gainesville. The county's focus, though, is getting people into housing. Not temporary shelter, but affordable permanent supportive housing.”

That’s why plans call for making Scottish Inn a permanent housing unit for the homeless.

“After all, the only cure for homelessness is a house or a home,” Sexton said.

When the county is looking to fill spots at an affordable housing unit they “typically go to a homeless shelter or a homeless outreach team finds the homeless people in stress, and ask if they are interested in housing,” Tuck said. “If they are interested, they usually get placed.”

Then there are assessments done by the community support service to look for the best candidates to be placed into the Scottish Inn once it’s completed.

Tuck said the county uses a nationally used assessment, the coordinated entry system, and candidates are placed through that. The score is based on the most at risk, and typically those with the greatest risk are the ones chosen for the affordable housing units.

“A lot of times this housing is for those with challenging circumstances like mental health, substance abuse disorders or disabilities that make it challenging for them to maintain a job,” Prizzia said.

Prizzia said they often end up being frequent flyers at emergency rooms in the area and take up a lot of taxpayer dollars in emergency situations.

“There’s a toll to be taken on society in general,” Sexton said. “Many times, these people end up in the criminal justice system, and that gets really expensive and very rarely leads to good outcomes. So the county is focusing on their lane here which is to get these people under a roof, and this project is a great example of that.”

The Scottish Inn will have case managers and peer support. Sexton said there will also be mental health services, addiction services or therapeutic services.

Prizzia said even though “permanent” is in the title, it isn’t often permanent.

“Often, within a couple of years, those people have stabilized and then can transition without the permanent support,” she said.

Prizzia said the goal is to add resources like computers into the housing unit to allow residents to easily apply for jobs.

“I think the goal is that we end homelessness in Alachua County,” she said.