Gainesville Commissioners Allocate $700K to Combat Street Violence and Homelessness

Gainesville Commissioners Allocate $700K to Combat Street Violence and Homelessness

On February 15, the Gainesville City Commission held their regular meeting where it set to spend $700,000 for a fight against street violence and homelessness. For that, the politicians reduced $660,000 from the Creekside Commons allocation and $40,000 from American rescue plan act (ARPA) funds. The reasons being two deadly shootings since the beginning of the year and criticisms from citizens about the camp of aggressive homeless people spread out on SE 4th Place. 20-30 people have set up about 15 tents along the sidewalk. 

The City of Gainesville declared gun violence a public health crisis in February 2023, and set a goal to reduce such cases in the downtown of the city.

The City also hired a Gun Violence Prevention and Intervention Manager, funded by ARPA, who will start their work on March 11, 2024. 

The commissioners mentioned that they had already used $50 million in initiatives reducing violence, from which $648,172 were dedicated to the use of arts and culture to promote youth health and well-being.

It was pointed out that the homeless population has increased by about 100 annually, and the same will happen by the end of 2024. in 2021, there were 521 sheltered and unsheltered people on the street; in 2022, it became 625, and in 2024 - 725. 

Many citizens made appeals about their dangerous neighborhoods. John Arana said he had seen an increase in the population of homeless people near the old fire station over the past 25 years, mentioning his fear due to recently seeing a shooting near the building.

Dillon Boatner proposed that the old fire station could become a shelter, but City Manager Cynthia Curry said it had been decided to destroy it. Mayor Harvey Ward noted that its reconstruction as a shelter will be too costly.

A suitable location for a shelter was never chosen. Alachua Deputy County Manager Carl Smart told the City Commission that the County has purchased two motels, but they are not ready for now because of the slow payment of a grant from the State. She hopes that at least one motel can be used by the end of this year or at least in the spring of 2025.

John's father, Philip Arana,  added that last week, he faced a homeless person screaming in the middle of his street. He was afraid to leave his car to walk into his house. 

One woman said she had twice seen a naked man in her yard and told the Commission that she thought he would attack her. 

Problems with homeless’ pets were also brought up. Jamie Swick said that a dog from a homeless camp ran after her when she was out with her dog. 

Eli Collins stated that he had owned a property for rent with a surrounding territory from 2017 near the homeless camp, and because of it, it became tough to run a business. 

“Firstly, some people use the bathroom on my property, and, secondly, things are getting stolen. Recently, I had to go to the camp to recover my stolen items. There are people there who feel like they are going to shoot me."

Collins mentioned that some homeless folks are constantly fighting, screaming, and yelling. 

“People are scared to walk there, and they call Uber. My tenants are afraid and are moving out. My contracts get canceled," he said. "Now, I don't know how to stay in business, especially when paying taxes and insurance. I want somebody to be involved and create some shelters."

One woman commented, "It is unfortunate that these campers cannot afford local rentals, but that tent city in the middle of downtown Gainesville is not the solution to the housing issue." 

In addition, commissioner Cynthia Chestnut said she was informed about a camp near the Walmart on Waldo Road where people are cooking food on fire. She warned that fire became rampant at one time.

Having listened to the tenants' comments, Ward agreed to take some actions but said it must be within the frames of the laws. One of them is that homeless folks cannot be replaced on the streets unless some other place is proposed to them instead.

"If we do this wrong, the courts are very serious about penalties," he said.

One more matter is that when the new location for a shelter is found, it would be around $90 daily to spend on a bed and supplementary for a single person. Commissioner Ed Book claimed, "If we're going to deal with it consistently, we have to put some more resources on the table."

Commissioner Bryan Eastman said the continuous asset to people without homes will be a heavy ballast for a budget.

“As we are looking down at a future where we have to do even more severe budget cuts… I worry about increasing within this fiscal year by $700,000… Just for this, instead of 'How do we smooth this out over time?'"

Public comment at this meeting shows how an uncontrolled homeless population terrifies many Gainesville residents. As for the Florida legislature, Governor Ron Desantis recently introduced a bill which would prohibit camping on city streets, sidewalks, and parks. The bill would increase funding for mental health treatment and homeless shelters, while also creating “state enforcement” to mandate compliance from local governments. 

Hanna Motorina

Hanna Motorina

Hanna Motorina is a New York-based reporter from Ukraine. She has experience over 8 years covering international politics, policy, and economics.