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 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 bid 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. 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 Cafe 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.
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: