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Gainesville confirms how many people are using cold night shelters

St. Francis House is one of many places around Gainesville that will begin operating cold night shelters for homeless people during the winter. The deadline for non-profits to sign up to receive funding for the program is Oct. 22.
St. Francis House is one of many places around Gainesville that will begin operating cold night shelters for homeless people during the winter.

Update Feb. 27: After publication of this story, city spokesperson Rossana Passaniti provided WUFT with a document detailing the number of people experiencing homelessness who were helped by the cold night shelter program at St. Francis House in the last few years. The numbers are as follows:

In fiscal year 2019, the program assisted 157 people. In 2020, it was 51. In 2021, the number was 96. In 2022, the number jumped to 240, and in 2023 there were 115. Grace Marketplace does not submit information to the city regarding the cold night shelters, according to the document.

The original story can be found below.

This winter was colder than average, due to an El Niño weather pattern bringing in cool air and more rain. Because of this, temperatures at night often dipped below 45 degrees Fahrenheit, activating the city of Gainesville’s cold night shelter program.

When the temperature at night dips below 45 degrees for three or more hours, emergency shelter capacity opens at two locations: Grace Marketplace and St. Francis House. These two shelters applied for a portion of the city’s $25,000 worth of federal funding allocated to the program every year.

After multiple public records requests and phone calls with the city, no one could confirm the exact number of people — much less a rough estimate — who have used the shelter in recent years.

The city activated its cold night shelter program 17 times in January and February of 2023, according to public records. This year, that number jumped to 27. That’s already more than half of shelter nights activated in each of the last four years’ total counts.

In 2014 and prior years, the city would write quarterly strategic plan reports outlining the exact numbers. For example, in the first quarter of fiscal year 2014 , the city said, “a total of 201 homeless persons were assisted through November 30, 2013.” However, the city no longer writes these reports, based on information provided in a public records request.

The city does create a document each year called an Annual Action Plan, outlining plans for federal funding the city sends to the Department of Housing and Urban Development. In this document, the city includes an estimate of how many people the cold night shelter program is expected to help each year.

In fiscal year 2020, the city’s plan said the program would “assist 160 homeless persons." The next year, the number dropped to 60, and has remained around there ever since. Alachua County had been seeing a decrease in homelessness before the pandemic, but in recent years there’s been a spike in the point-in-time survey numbers of homeless people.

This program has been serving houseless individuals in the community for over 20 years between November and March, according to city spokesperson Rossana Passaniti. She said the name “cold night shelter” is a bit of a misnomer.

“It's more of an emergency event shelter program because it could get activated outside of the typical Nov. 1 to March 31 window, for example, for inclement weather,” she said. “But, you know, we don't want anybody to suffer the cold.”

Passaniti said the program is designed to serve people experiencing homelessness, but can be used by anyone in the city, including people without indoor heating in their homes.

Grace Marketplace declined multiple requests for an interview. Jon DeCarmine, CEO of Grace, has spoken at a number of city commission meetings to discuss the ongoing homelessness issue in the city, including the recent sweep of Southeast 4th Place.

St. Francis House has nine rooms with a daily capacity to house about 45 people, primarily women and families with children. When the cold night shelter program is active, they expand their capacity by 60 beds.

Katelyn Drummet, the marketing director at St. Francis House, said they usually get about 40 additional people each cold night, but she didn’t have a specific headcount. She said everyone gets dinner and breakfast, as well as access to case management services in the morning.

“The majority of our clients that come in for cold night shelter are also our day clients, which is when we open our shelter between 9 and 12 every day,” she said. “Where they can also access basic needs items: our showers, bathrooms, laundry, case management, that sort of thing.”

St. Francis House requires anyone staying at the shelter to receive a “blue card” from the Gainesville Police Department, checking for outstanding warrants or sexual predator registrations.

She said the program is a great way to help the city’s vulnerable populations get out of the cold.

“It's nice, when people do not have a reliable place to stay and need to get out of severe weather temperatures, that they have a safe and reliable place to go,” Drummet said.

Kristin is a reporter for WUFT News who can be reached by calling 352-392-6397 or emailing