Downtown Jacksonville is getting more help with its panhandlers and homeless community thanks to a new outreach specialist.
It's part of a downtown business plan to rebuild and improve the area.
Cindy Ray was recently hired as a social service outreach specialist for Downtown Vision. This is the first one for the non-profit organization.
Downtown property owners started the nonprofit to help improve the economy of the area.
Jake Gordon, CEO of Downtown Vision, sees the new position as an additional service beyond the city.
“So we are really only a small part of the puzzle but when we looked at downtown specifically our half-square-mile district, we did feel like it was valuable to have a human being 40 hours a week on the street interacting with these human beings,” Gordon said.
The clinical psychologist’s main job is to build relationships while helping them receive social services that they need. Ray is also a liaison with other agencies in the city, county and state as she provides context for the information she compiles from her talks with the panhandlers and homeless community.
Ray has been patrolling the 90-block district, according to Gordon.
“For example, Cindy already told me being on the streets for a month about thirty percent of the people that she meets are new to downtown. Meaning they been in downtown a week or less,” Gordon said.
While Gordon doesn’t see Ray as the only solution, he said that together with other entities there could be solutions crafted for the future as downtown continue to grow.
“But as part of a bigger downtown and Jacksonville community, I do think we can be part of a solution that will simultaneously help a lot of the transient homeless individuals we see on the street and also make downtown a lot better,” Gordon said. “ And I think both of these things are desperately needed.”
The city of Jacksonville’s Community Development Block funded a $55,000 grant with another $14,000 coming from BB&T’s Community Development Charitable Contribution for the job. The funding will last for one year.
Joslyn Simmons can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, 904-358-6316