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Jon DeCarmine: Grace Marketplace has Significantly Improved Lives of Homeless

Bruce Frendahl’s Oct. 25 column bought into a number of age-old assumptions about homelessness in Alachua County, and does more to perpetuate stereotypes about homeless people than it does to present solutions.

The problems that have occurred out at Dignity Village are similar to what has happened in tent cities of the past. The difference, of course, is that these problems are now out in the open, and available for inspection and — ultimately — solutions.

For the first time, people living in a tent city here in Gainesville have access to the basics of public health — running water, trash disposal and bathrooms. Rather than have to traverse through downtown from tent city to get much-needed social services, people living in this tent city need only walk a few steps to the wide variety of services offered at Grace.

Grace Marketplace is the “intelligent, common-sense” vision supported by more than 200 leaders in health care, social services, affordable housing and public safety, brought together in 2005 and overseen today by some of our community’s most passionate leaders.

The fact is, more than half of our community’s homeless are in some form of shelter today, and not out on the street, living downtown or in parks, as was the case 10 years ago. Far from being in disarray, Grace Marketplace has brought about significant improvements in the lives of homeless men and women in Alachua County.

We’ve added 80 shelter beds in the past year, and will add 20 more by the end of November. We’ve served 70,000 meals, provided 13,000 showers, and offered hundreds upon hundreds of people access to physical and mental health care, case management, job training programs, benefit coordination, and a place to be while they connect with service providers.

Seven of every 10 people who work with our shelter case managers have moved into housing, and 60 percent exit the shelter with new income. With each passing day, our programs get better, more effective and more efficient. These results, don’t forget, have all been produced by a program in its infancy — Grace only opened its doors in May of 2014.

Over the next three years, our vision is for Grace to become a triage center for homeless services: a “third option” for law enforcement officers who often have to pick between institutionalizing people with mental health issues or sending them to jail, and a national model for compassionate communities who recognize the one-stop model is a humane, effective and cost-efficient way to care for those in need.

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