JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Dozens of people have set up a makeshift homeless camp at the corner of North Jefferson Street in between West Beaver and West Union streets in Downtown Jacksonville.
For some, it might be an eyesore, but for those who call the block home, it’s reality.
One young man told News4Jax he’d been living on the streets in Jacksonville’s LaVilla neighborhood for about three weeks.
“I lost my job in North Carolina, came up here because I had my boss pay for me a bus ticket, and I have been out here ever since,” said the 21-year-old, who asked not to be identified.
Shelters have been forced to reduce their bed capacity by 50% due to COVID-19 social distancing rules, but the city told News4Jax that many people are opting to stay in the camp because some shelters only allow people to bring in one bag, which means they would be leaving behind their other belongings.
In recent weeks, the camp has caught the attention of residents and city officials.
On Saturday, News4Jax received a tip saying the city had told the people it will be vacating the property.
“About two days ago, they had two cop cars and a DOT with three or four trucks out here, telling everybody to back up on the grass, if it’s not on the grass, it’s getting thrown on the back of the truck, which is trash, and now today, I went down there to get blankets and they told me this Monday, everybody has got to go, take all your stuff, whatever you don’t take is going in the trash,” the man explained. “I’m working, as of right now, but I don’t have the money to get an apartment or pay rent or nothing.”
But the city said Sunday that it has not told anyone to move by Monday.
The man said he has no idea where they will go or what they will do.
“We ain’t even got no tents, nothing,” he said. “I don’t know what you all expect us to do, ‘cause I can’t go inside the rescue mission with more than one bag. It’s going to take up too much room in that container, so I don’t know what to do with my stuff or what.”
He said he’ll stay in the camp until the city forces him to leave.
“I just don’t know what time they’re going to end up showing up. I don’t even have a wagon to transport all my stuff,” he said. “I don’t even know where to take it.”
And that gentleman is not alone. News4Jax spoke to many people out at the camp who said they are concerned. They are worried about what to do with all their belongings and what’s next.
Another man we met said he has a solution.
“We build our own rescue and shelter,” he said. “We can renovate some of these empty buildings and this could be a place for us, a nonprofit organization so we can get some of these guys, people off the streets.”
A city spokesperson told News4Jax on Sunday that the city has been working for the last several weeks on a new initiative called “Pathway to Home” to find solutions for these individuals. The spokesperson said the city will be rolling out a plan this week and will be reaching out to those in the homeless camp to offer them safer and more secure options.
The spokesperson said the plan is being put into action now that the city has received the funding that it was waiting for.
More details are expected to be released this week, but the spokesperson said shelter, food and transportation will be offered.