JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Even though 55,000 people work downtown, less than one-tenth of that call it home.
The number of residents living there has grown over the years, but it’s evident that life for them is much different than that of those who leave the area behind when they clock out of work each day.
One common observation among residents, regardless of where they live, is the lack of greenspace. Another is the city’s struggle with homelessness, which grows more apparent when the sun sets.
Larry Dalton reckons he’s been homeless for four or five years. He might not have a roof, but he’s got an idea or two about how the city could help lift up and look after its most vulnerable constituents.
“We have all these buildings around here,” he said. “Just take some of them and fix them up for one or more shelters. Get a couple of buildings with a couple of floors and help them get on their feet.”
News4Jax reached out to the city for this story. Though officials did not wish to speak on camera, we spoke with Dawn Lockhart, the head of Mayor Lenny Curry’s Task Force on Homelessness.
Lockhart said the task force was formed in 2017 with the goal of finding feasible solutions to the problem that she described as “big enough to matter” and “small enough to solve.”
She said Jacksonville presents a unique challenge because of its size and the lack of people who live downtown, which only makes its struggles with homelessness more apparent.
Jennifer Perkins used to live downtown for roughly a decade. But she has since relocated to Ortega.
“There’s really nothing to sustain living here and the lifestyle,” Perkins told News4Jax. “I don’t think downtown is much of a destination at all…except for the working people.”
She doesn’t share the same optimism as Jake Gordon, the chief executive officer of Downtown Vision, a nonprofit organization that aims to make the area a better place for residents and businesses alike.
"This year, the growth is exponential," Gordon said. "Right now, we have $1 billion in projects happening in downtown."
Gordon said the goal is to provide the amenities that would attract people to live there, family-friendly necessities like grocery stores, dog sparks and green space.
"The best is yet to come," he said.