Within hours of city crews arriving with a truck that scooped claw-fulls of items into a dumpster bed, hundreds of remaining tents had dwindled to just over a dozen in a makeshift homeless camp in Downtown Jacksonville.
The city of Jacksonville wasted no time Tuesday morning as a deadline arrived for people to move out of the camp, which has been referred to as “tent city.”
The doors closed at 10 p.m. Tuesday and only people who work a night shift were permitted to enter. As of 11 p.m., a volunteer said, there were about 45 people inside the shelter.
The homeless camp grew from 10 people to about 200 in the last three months, and last month, 46 people from the camp were placed in extended-living hotels, but the number of people in the camp kept growing with more people needing help.
Around 8 a.m. Tuesday, crews using a grapple truck were seen scooping items collected in piles on the property at Union and Jefferson streets, which has been surrounded by fencing. Crews also installed the last piece of the gate designed to keep people out.
Daryus Sando, who called the tent city home for two months, said seeing the city crews made the deadline suddenly very real.
“When you actually see things going down, versus hearing about it, it’s always that, ‘OK, I’ve got to do it, I’ve got to move now, I’ve got to find somewhere to go now. It’s the real deal,’” Sando said.
Hundreds of tents could still be seen on the property early in the morning as officers could be seen making the rounds at the property throughout the morning, letting people know they would need to vacate.
News4Jax was told noon was given as a deadline.
By 9 a.m., the number of tents had dwindled somewhat but many still remained. By noon, the number was down to just over a dozen.
White vans could be seen transporting those who had been living on the property to the nearby indoor shelter on West Ashley Street, where they can live for the next 30 days. The shelter was 0.3 miles from the “tent city” area, about a 6-minute walk.
The setup at the temporary Ashley Street shelter is a lot like a hurricane shelter with American Red Cross cots and the open room divided for men, women and families. The facility does have portable showers and toilets and will have meals served.
It was a day of change for the nearly 150 people who moved into the shelter on Tuesday, including Jeremiah Wolfe.
“It went pretty smooth, pretty quick. It was easy today, nobody was fighting against each other like that. Everybody helped each other and everybody came together,” Wolfe said.
The facility on West Ashley Street was donated to the city. It is being run by the City Rescue Mission.
Paul Stasi with CRM described the shelter like a temporary disaster shelter the city would set up for a situation like a hurricane.
Not everyone was happy with how the operation was handled.
“They moved us from the park to here. I have nothing but my walker and my purse. Nothing else. They had everything of mine on the back of a truck that was supposed to come. I have nothing,” Katherine Creek said.
Organizers and volunteers said they are working to try and smooth things out because they know moving day can be chaotic.
The shelter will have a 10 p.m. curfew except for those with evening jobs, organizers said.
People at the property expressed a wide range of emotions Tuesday, some saying they were concerned about the indoor shelter or had reasons they can’t go. One woman, who asked not to be named, said she hasn’t seen her children since October.
“I miss you babies so much! Mommy’s going to get it back together,” she said, explaining that she makes money running errands for people with her truck and can’t stay at a shelter that has a curfew because someone might call at 3 a.m. needing her to make a trash run.
Others said they’re grateful to have somewhere to go.
“At least the people that are doing this for us, at least they’re helping everybody else, giving us a place to stay, helping us with the tents. Helped us with everything,” Thomas Riggs said.
Not everyone wanted to move, but those who care for the homeless say living outdoors like this isn’t safe.
Activists at the property Tuesday said it never should have gotten to this point in the first place. They said they believe more should have been done from the beginning.
Community activist Brennan Reed tried to help Tuesday and shared videos with News4Jax showing the confused scene.
“They were promised a hotel at the beginning. They were promised permanent residency. The city fell through on that,” Reed said.
He said tensions boiled and rumors ran throughout the area as city workers cleared and closed off the property where about 200 people had been living.
Several different groups were trying to help out the people as they were checked in to the bridge shelter, asking them questions like whether they need medical help or psychological counseling? What else is going on in their lives? Is there possibly another shelter for them?
These are all factors that they are considering as they make sure that everyone has a place to stay, bathroom, shower and, of course, food.
Space is an issue. This building only holds 100 people. So they’re being asked to keep their belongings to a minimum. Health, safety also concerns as residents will be under one roof in hurricane shelter scenario. @wjxt4 pic.twitter.com/lkHxHYec8s— Vic Micolucci WJXT (@WJXTvic) March 9, 2021
“They’ve got this for 30 days and then what? That’s the issue that I’ve been addressing with City Council. I don’t want this to be a position to where in 30 days we’re back to square one, but we’re even worse off because now we don’t have our Ground Zero anymore,” Reed said.
The temporary shelter is a step in the right direction, Reed said, but the resources need to continue so no one falls backward.
“For a few of us we’re only one paycheck away from being in the same position,” Reed said.
There are concerns about health -- it’s the age of the coronavirus, and it’s hard for people to keep socially distanced in this shelter. That’s why volunteers want it to be temporary, and they’re trying to find people other places to stay.