When assisting the homeless, the focus is often more on output than an outcome. Numbers of meals, numbers of beds, and pounds of food donated can outweigh the real purpose of the generosity — to change people’s lives.
For GRACE Marketplace — which is working to eliminate homelessness in Gainesville — the most significant numbers surround outcomes. They go beyond showing how many meals have been served or beds slept in, but what success looks like beyond homelessness.
While GRACE Marketplace has provided more than 120,000 meals, 28,000 nights of shelter, and nearly 60,000 cups of coffee, the impact is felt throughout the city because of what those numbers represent. Just because a certain number of meals are served doesn’t mean a certain amount of impact is made, especially if the same people are eating those meals year after year.
Since opening in May 2014, GRACE has helped Gainesville reduce the number of homeless by 38% with its mission of helping homeless people find and retain housing. In fact, 85% of the people GRACE helps find homes are able to retain them, and this approach has also led to a 55% reduction in the number of homeless people on the street in Gainesville.
The numbers envisioned by GRACE Marketplace have increased exponentially since 2014 when their doors opened with the goal of feeding 100 people in the first year. After serving 108 meals in the first hour, it became apparent just how significant an effect GRACE Marketplace could have in the community — and how much Gainesville needed its service.
GRACE Marketplace measures success in the number of people who leave the facility for a better situation, and in under three years, they have helped more than 300 people find permanent housing — which is one person every 2.5 days. Those numbers are a culmination of giving people paths — not pre-determined plans — that allow them to get help tailored to their individual circumstances.
On-site social-service offerings from state agencies and local organizations are aimed at breaking down barriers for the homeless and have been a driving factor in home relocation, as 74% of people who work with a case manager at GRACE Marketplace exit to housing. What used to take a person 2-3 weeks and countless treks all over town for appointments with the right agencies has been consolidated into one convenient service center. That adds up to fewer weeks or months spent in limbo.
And the goal is to reduce the amount of time from GRACE Marketplace move-in to retention of housing to 30 days. Currently, that number is 42 days (down significantly from 80 in its first year), and all of GRACE's efforts are focused on providing the most effective services to lower that number.
Statistics cannot fully capture the impact GRACE Marketplace has had on Gainesville, but the numbers are certainly hard to ignore. They have already had a significant impact on the homeless population in less than three years, and as they try to capitalize on the momentum that is gathering, sustainable compassion will be vital. Supporters can contribute by donating to GRACE Marketplace or by filling out a form to volunteer, and actively help move the number of homeless people in Gainesville even closer to zero.