JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – A Jacksonville City Councilwoman is expressing concerns that the city’s plan to shelter its homeless residents could lead to an influx of homeless people from out of town.
Councilwoman Ju’Coby Pittman told News4Jax that she’s worried law enforcement agencies in neighboring counties are transporting their homeless residents here, which could give them a false sense of hope about the resources available.
“Last week I was here and I saw one of the police cars from Camden County and they dropped off a couple people,” Pittman said. “Two people got out of the car.”
Besides Camden County, Pittman believes new arrivals are coming from nearby areas such as St. Johns County and Savannah, Georgia, among other communities. “People are getting the word. What we don’t want to happen is false hope,” she said.
The issue stems from a tent city that cropped up downtown near the intersection of Union and Jefferson streets. The camp’s size has grown from a few tents to dozens, leading the city to announce plans to move those residents into indoor spaces.
The city said 100 people living at the camp would be given places to stay with a short- term goal of closing down the tent city and a long-term goal of ending homelessness.
In response to Pittman’s concerns, News4Jax reached out to law enforcement agencies in Broward County, Savannah, Ware County and St. Johns County. All of them said they do not transport homeless residents out of their county.
The Camden County Sheriff’s Office acknowledged that some residents recently released from jail, namely those from Florida, asked for transportation to Jacksonville and the agency obliged:
Checking on the homeless situation, it was determined that some individuals that had been released from incarceration were from Florida and requested a way to get to Jacksonville. A transport Deputy was headed south to Florida so his supervisor allowed him to transport the people to Jacksonville. They were provided a ride as a courtesy for them since Camden County does not have a Greyhound Bus Station, nor a Homeless Shelter to provide for their needs.Camden County Sheriff's Office
At the tent city Thursday, News4Jax spoke with residents and volunteers who say they have seen people dropped off in Jacksonville, a practice they believe could make the issue worse.
“They’re basically telling them that this is where you’re going to get help,” resident Dennis Henry said. “Because everybody’s telling them that we have a program that’s helping them in Jacksonville.”
“Of course it’s compounding the issue,” said Casie Green, who volunteers at the camp. “It’s absolutely compounding the issue. From what we’re understanding, the city is given a budget. They did house 36 people for 30 days in a hotel. Then after the 30 days they’re right back here or whatever the next location is.”
The camp is set to close on March 9, but the city hopes some people will begin moving into shelters before then. Several shelters had bed availability as of Tuesday, including four dozen beds at City Rescue Mission right across from the encampment.
According to city figures, 54 people have been offered places to stay at extended-stay motels since Jan. 1, with 48 of them accepting.
The city plans to open what’s called a “temporary bridge shelter,” which will be open for 30 days to give people access to resources including restrooms, showers, food, water and other essential items, as well as employment, medical and social services.
The location of the temporary shelter has not yet been released.
After 30 days pass, the bridge shelter will be closed, but resources will continue to be available through Urban Rest Stop.