City Council members attending a Thursday meeting agree more affordable housing options are needed to help fight homelessness in Jacksonville, but funding development projects could be difficult.
The City Hall meetup was organized by freshman Councilman Terrance Freeman, who was appointed to his District 10 seat by Governor Rick Scott after Reggie Brown was suspended and indicted on federal fraud charges.
“I actually was hoping, in this meeting, to kind of get caught up on the history,” Freeman said to open the discussion.
Freeman said he was recently playing in a charity basketball game for the I’m A Star Foundation when he learned that Jacksonville has an estimated 3,000 homeless students. He had heard that Councilman Bill Gulliford, District 13, had been discussing the homelessness issue in Jacksonville, so Freeman decided to organize this meeting to learn about the issue and to try and figure out how to address it.
“I’m new to the dance floor, and am not a very good dancer, but I like to try,” Freeman said, jokingly. “I wanted to learn where we come from in this conversation. And a lot of times when you hear where you’ve come from you have a better understanding of how we can get to where we’re going.”
Dawn Gilman, CEO of CHANGING Homelessness (Emergency Services and Homeless Coalition of Northeast Florida), filled councilmembers in on some updated figures.
“In our community, on any given night, there’s about 250 to 300 people who are, we’ll call them street homeless,” she said. That refers to anyone who’s not in a shelter. They’re either sleeping in their car, under an overpass or in a park.
“The total number of people who are homeless, and that includes those who are not in any type of shelter, is now down, at our last count, under 2,000,” she said. That number includes people who are in shelters and transitional housing.
“A lot of our people who are homeless and sleeping on the streets sleep downtown,” Gilman said. “That’s the main hotspot for that. So there is a question, what would it take to address that particular population, that particular issue? Which is different, but I would argue equally or even more importantly, how do we also address affordable housing?”
“We are not making a full commitment to affordable housing in this city, that’s the problem,” said Councilman Bill Gulliford, District 13. “If we are going to step it up we have got to really make a commitment and say we’re going to address this problem.”
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“There are some people that are never going to own a house. It’s not their temperament. They’re not going to accept the responsibility,” Gulliford said. “Do you then also consider the issue of affordable rentals as part of it? Absolutely.”
The problem the city faces when it comes to affordable housing, according to Councilwoman Ju’Coby Pittman, is that “the need outweighs the funding.”
Freeman agreed, saying as city councilmembers they need to prioritize finding dedicated funding sources, “from my perspective, without ever raising taxes.”
“I’ve heard from people in the business community,” Freeman said. “They’re interested, they’re leaning in and they’re willing to participate.”
“The administration is definitely on board with helping with the homeless situation,” said Chiquita Moore, Intergovernmental Affairs Liaison to Mayor Lenny Curry.
The good news, according to Gilman, is that the city’s homeless veteran population has dropped by about 80 percent over the past few years.
“The one thing that has allowed that big drop in the veteran population, is there has been a certain level of consistency for both permanent supportive housing, which are those deeply affordable apartments for people that really need them,” Gilman said. “Also the rapid rehousing and the prevention dollars have been there, and the grant and per diem dollars for the transitional housing.”
“So we have a whole mini system that is pretty, I would say, really functional for veterans,” said Gilman. “If you’re not a veteran, that just is not the case.”
The group plans to reconvene in the near future to continue the conversation. “The ultimate goal is to move towards some solutions,” Freeman said.