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Why Jacksonville may not get its homeless day resource center after all

On Monday night, Jacksonville’s ICARE group has its yearly Nehemiah Assembly, at which local faith leaders will call for the reopening of a downtown homeless day resource center closed a couple of years back.

Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry has received pressure to come through with money for this purpose, and as of last week, attending the Monday ICARE event isn’t on his agenda, after a fractious February meeting with the group.

Also very possibly absent from Curry’s agenda: bringing back the day resource center.

We talked to Dawn Gilman of Jacksonville’s Changing Homelessness group about the day resource center last week.

Gilman, whose group secured two years of federal funding for the center and who is consulting with the mayor’s office on next steps, threw up a number of caution flags during our conversation.

One major caution flag: the money came from Community Development Block Grants.

CDBGs are phased out of the first Donald Trump budget.

Another major caution flag: mixed results.

While people who used the center liked it, there was a paradoxical correlation between likelihood of misdemeanor arrests and having been a consumed of the center’s services.

The day center, said Gilman, “didn’t have good outcomes in connecting people with housing,” though it did connect people with services.

“The best possible outcome is for a person who is homeless to be connected with housing, and the day resource center didn’t do that,” Gilman added.

Especially in light of limited city resources, “tough decisions” have to be made.

“Is it the best use of resources? No,” Gilman said. “For every $8,000 spent, we could rehouse [someone].” And “permanent supportive housing” for someone could be secured for $12,000 a year.

As is the case with other social-service legislation, such as the Jacksonville Journey, the mayor’s office wants a data-driven approach. And the data shows that a day center serves a supplementary, not a primary purpose, Gilman contends.

It is “unlikely that a day resource center” would top the list of Curry administration solutions to the problem.

A day center, says Gilman, offers a “visible front door” but “no connected exit” from homelessness.

Gilman advocates shifting resources to “crisis response” — emergency services.

Further inquiry, via an outside group commissioned by Changing Homelessness, is underway; the “deep dive” might be completed by this summer, which could complicate recommendations becoming part of the next budget.

Gilman notes a point of success: homelessness is down 30 percent in the last five years.

In that case, the solution is federal: funding from the federal Department of Veterans Affairs has led to a “stunning decrease” in veterans who are homeless.

Written By

A.G. Gancarski has been a working journalist for over two decades, with bylines in national and local publications alike on subjects ranging from pop music to national and global politics. Gancarski has been a correspondent for FloridaPolitics.com since 2014, and has held a column in Jacksonville, Florida's Folio Weekly for two decades. In 2018, he was a finalist for an Association of Alternative Newsweeklies "best political column." Gancarski is a frequent presence on Jacksonville television and radio, including fill-in slots on WJCT-FM's award-winning talk show "First Coast Connect." He can be reached at a.g.gancarski@gmail.com.

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