JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Help is days away for those living in a homeless camp in Downtown Jacksonville.
Mayor Lenny Curry and the city’s COVID-19 Shelter Task Force announced details Wednesday of a plan to provide shelter, food and long-term options for the city’s homeless, saying outreach has begun at a homeless encampment on city property at Union and Jefferson streets to let people know they will be moved into hotels within days.
The city estimates that there are about 40 people in the camp, but officials say the problem is much greater, and they are working on that as well.
At a news conference Wednesday, the city said eight to 10 extended-stay hotels will be participating. Rapid Rehousing specialists will be available at those hotels starting Monday to help people get checked in.
Staff from multiple agencies will meet with the unsheltered to identify their needs for storage of belongings, transportation and to register individuals for a room. In addition to offering housing services, groceries and prepared meals will be delivered to participants once a week.
Cindy Funkhouser, president and CEO of Sulzbacher Center, said the federal CARES Act and funding from the state, city and philanthropic dollars will be used for this and the goal of the task force is to move these people into permanent housing within 30 days. The city said between $550,000 and $650,000 is currently available for the project. How far that money stretches depends on how many people agree to participate.
“The individuals being enrolled in the Pathways to Home are going to be in the hotels for 30 days, maybe less, because we are constantly looking for affordable housing that’s available,” said Dawn Lockhart.
Those who need immediate support may speak to an outreach worker or visit the Urban Rest Stop, located at the Sulzbacher Center at 611 E. Adams St. It is open seven days a week from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.
This project is a collaboration with the city, Sulzbacher, Mental Health Resource Center, Changing Homelessness, additional area homeless providers, Downtown Vision and the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office.
“The impact of the pandemic presented unique challenges for our homeless providers, challenges that required significant changes to the way they operate,” Curry said.
This camp downtown has drawn most of the attention because of its visibility.
“It has grown, I would say, with the last three months,” City Council member Ju’Coby Pittman said. “It’s always been there but not as visible as it is now.”
Terry Brooks, who was at the homeless camp Wednesday morning, said he’d definitely take advantage of this new program.
“It’s been pretty rough,” Brooks said. “When you don’t have no work and you can’t get in the shelters.”
“I think it’s a great idea. It would get all of us off the street,” Harry Raymond added. “I’m on permanent disability. I can’t work. I’m here because I don’t have a choice.”
The city told News4Jax at the beginning of the week that people living in the camp on city property in LaVilla were misinformed that they would be forced to leave the camp this week. Both Curry’s office and the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office said the people in the camp were not given a deadline to leave.
“There is a public health risk associated with that,” Curry said of the camp. “We hope that people will use this program and not congregate in that space in that way.”
Signs posted near the camp read in part: “Officers of the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office are authorized to enforce the Florida trespass laws on this property. Failure to leave this property after being instructed to do so by a law enforcement officer may result in your arrest...”
Volunteers Jason Pugh and Charlie Griffin told News4Jax they have been coming to the homeless camp every Tuesday for three months.
“We feed the homeless, we provide shelter, we give them tents,” Pugh said.
Pittman is also CEO and president of the Clara White Mission, which helps Jacksonville’s homeless people. The mission is across the street from the homeless camp.
“We want to provide housing and supportive services to those individuals to make sure they are stabilized,” Pittman said.
Anyone who can help is encouraged to donate to local social service groups within the community or visit ChangingHomelessness.org.