Before the first person walked through the welcoming gates of GRACE in 2014, nearly a decade's worth of effort had already been put in to make the campus a reality.
That work began in 2005 when the local government and the Alachua County Coalition for the Homeless & Hungry collaborated on a report outlining a 10-year plan to end homelessness – Project GRACE: The Gainesville/Alachua County 10-Year-Plan to End Homelessness.
The plan addressed the root causes of homelessness – lack of affordable housing or a living wage. The 57-page document laid out detailed strategies and a multi-pronged approach to getting people off the streets and back into housing as quickly as possible. At the same time, the plan called for preventative services to keep at-risk individuals and families from becoming homeless, battling the issue from both sides.
After securing implementation funding from the City and County in 2006, the process of selecting a location became the primary objective. Advocates scouted and placed bids on property after property, but while everyone in the county recognized the problem of homelessness – and applauded the work that GRACE would do to combat it – many citizens were uncomfortable with the idea of living close to the campus.
The GRACE project moved forward, however, determined to prove that the stigma was unfounded and that, given just a little bit of help, people could quickly get back on their feet. For years, the city and county commissions considered sites, contracts, zoning, and permits. Finally, in 2011, there was a turning point when the Gainesville Correctional Institution was being considered for closing, and local officials suggested the site for GRACE.
More than eight years after the 10-year plan to end homelessness was written, GRACE opened on May 5, 2014, on the site of the old GCI. Since then, it has become a one-stop shop for people without housing, providing food, shelter, and services aimed to end homelessness. GRACE opened its first indoor shelter in October 2014, and moved that shelter into its current dorm — GRACELand — in 2015, the same year Café 131 opened its doors.
In February 2016, fewer than two years after it opened, GRACE served its 100,000th meal. Later that year, GRACE also opened the Education & Training Building with help from the Community Foundation of North Central Florida.
Since opening, GRACE has contributed to a 47% drop in homelessness in Alachua County.
GRACE is always looking for dedicated volunteers and supportive donors to help with that mission.
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GRACE is the culmination of the hard work, perseverance, and compassion of countless individuals in Alachua County. Homelessness has always been an issue in the county and in the city of Gainesville. The establishment of GRACE, however, signaled a shift toward dealing with the problem head-on, rather than providing inadequate stop-gaps where too many people slipped through the cracks and back on the street.
Below is a timeline of our achievements so far and a look at how we got to where we are today:
GRACE was born out of the desire to bring Alachua County's homeless population down to zero. The people involved in making GRACE a reality have been fighting since 2005, and our plan was finally put in motion in 2014.
A HISTORY OF COMPASSION
Jon DeCarmine co-authors Project GRACE, a 10-year plan to end homelessness in Gainesville while working for the Alachua County Coalition for the Homeless and Hungry.
The Alachua County Commission sets aside money to be used for a homeless center, which would later be named GRACE. Over the next seven years, the Alachua County Commission and the Gainesville City Commission search for a suitable location for GRACE. Many locations are selected and vetted, but abandoned due to public sentiment.
FUNDING, THEN A LONG SEARCH
2006 - 2013
After reading about state consolidation of correctional facilities, a Gainesville City Commissioner suggests the Gainesville Correctional Institution as a possible site for the GRACE Campus.
FORMER GCI SITE SUGGESTED
GRACE opens on the GCI property with the goal of serving 100 people in the first year. The center helps 108 people on the first day of operations.
Later in the month, GRACE begins 24/7 operations.
On June 1st, the first breakfast is served at GRACE – to eight people. Six days later, the Pavilion, a covered outdoor space where people can stay overnight, unofficially opens.
2014 - 2015
In October of 2014, GRACE opens its first indoor shelter with the ability to serve 20 people per night. About six months later, in April of 2015, GRACE opens its main dorm dubbed GRACELand.
GRACE's cafeteria opens to provide meals. Advocates dedicate the kitchen as Café 131 in honor of Pat Fitzpatrick and his opposition to Gainesville's 130-meal limit for soup kitchens.
CAFÉ 131 OPENS
GRACE celebrates serving its 100,000th meal.
A MILESTONE MEAL
The Education & Training Building is opened with the help of the Community Foundation of North Central Florida. The building provides meeting space for service providers and is built to house a computer lab.
A NEW FACILITY FOR SERVICE
FORMER GCI SITE SUGGESTED
The Veterans opens. GRACE makes the shift to making all services low-barrier, a national best practice intended to make sure homeless services are available to the people who need them most.
VETERANS DORM OPENS
Jon DeCarmine is named Executive Director, and he continues the hard work to consistently expand the services and shelter beds offered at GRACE.
A NEW EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
ACCHH hands off the lead agency role to United Way, allowing for the dedication of all staff resources to direct services.
HANDING OFF THE LEAD AGENCY ROLE
The City and County approve a five-year contract for ongoing services and contracts with ACCHH to close Dignity Village. GRACE closes Dignity Village and establishes a national best practice for how communities can close homeless camps by prioritizing housing and resident input.
THE CLOSURE OF DIGNITY VILLAGE
GRACE partners with The Wagmore Foundation to start the Co-Sheltering and Animal Welfare Program, making us one of a select few of low-barrier shelters in the country to be fully pet friendly.
VALUING THE HUMAN-ANIMAL BOND
HUD highlights GRACE's response to COVID-19 as a model for other shelters.
Building on the success of the closure of Dignity Village, GRACE establishes a new Street Outreach Team. Based on the original contract, funders would consider the program a success if 12 people were housed in the first year. Instead, we housed 136 people, reducing downtown homelessness by 25%.
MEETING PEOPLE WHERE THEY ARE
GRACE celebrates serving its 1,000,000th meal!