Despite the stereotypes, few are homeless by choice; only 7% of Americans living on the streets are chronically homeless. The fact is the majority of those without homes have experienced a catastrophic life event, such as a layoff or the end of a relationship, and now simply have nowhere else to go.
To make matters worse, overcoming homelessness is an uphill battle. When your overriding need is to find a safe place to sleep, it can seem impossible to ever rise out of the struggle for survival. At GRACE Marketplace, in Gainesville, Florida, those without a home can find the reprieve they need to move beyond just thinking about day-to-day survival — and start thinking about rebuilding their lives.
More than a homeless shelter, GRACE provides housing, food, clothing, and a wide range of professional services, helping tackle every hurdle on the way to a permanent home. GRACE’s unique, all-inclusive approach to helping the homeless is working. In the three short years since it opened, GRACE has helped more than 300 people get off the streets for good.
People like Thomas, for whom GRACE Marketplace was his saving grace, providing the reprieve he needed after struggling with homelessness for months. The dedicated staff and volunteers at GRACE gave him the opportunity to help himself when no one else would. And they did it with a smile.
“When I walked into the Welcome Center, the staff made me feel like a person who matters. During my intake, I was talked to, not at, by a navigator who listened as I spoke,“ Thomas described. “GRACE allowed me to start the process of becoming self-sufficient from day one. I no longer had to carry my house on my back. I could take showers daily. My clothes were clean and the blisters on my feet began to heal. Immediately, my basic needs were met.”
Without the daily struggle to simply find food and shelter, Thomas was able to finally focus on his long-term goals, including finding employment and a permanent home.
“Months of seeking resources and assistance with no results ended 14 days after my arrival at GRACE,” he said. “In 14 days, after arriving at GRACE, I registered for classes at Sante Fe College, obtained full-time employment, and just signed a lease for my own apartment. GRACE allowed me to see a future again.”
While Thomas recognizes he still has a long journey ahead of him — he has an apartment, but no furniture; a bed, but no pillows — he now has the hope of a better future.
“I’m still very much in survival mode, but I am truly happy for the first time since my nightmare started months ago. My life is slowly returning to ‘normal’ each day. I am grateful for everything. GRACE gave me a life back,” said Thomas. “It is a truly amazing place, with caring staff who achieve the mission of GRACE marketplace not through words, but actions. GRACE saved me. Thank you!”