A Jacksonville homeless woman is speaking out about the city’s treatment of those who live without shelter. She recently wrote to Mayor Lenny Curry and the City Council.
Wendy Jenkins was spending Thursday morning at Hemming Park. It’s where she normally goes after waking up and then again after breakfast at Clara White Mission. She used to stay in shelters but said they feel like prison.
She said she sleeps on the street.
“It's not bad,” she said. "I have a sleeping bag and a lot of blankets. It's weather proof so I don't have to worry about the rain.”
Jenkins, a 48-year-old mom who used to work construction, arrived wearing a fuzzy pink, orange and purple scarf on this chilly morning.
“My boyfriend of 14 years had a stroke in March of 2015,” she said. “He lost his job, we couldn't afford to pay the bills on one income and ended up on the streets.”
Since then, they’ve split up, and she’s been on her own. She’s was sitting on the cement ledge of a raised flower bed.
“This right here where we’re sitting at used to have benches — right here,” she said, pointing to an empty area in front her. “There were eight or 10 of them right here where you could just sit and chill out and talk to your friends and everything else.”
She said that was before park management made changes.
“They were moved so we couldn't sit there anymore,” Jenkins said. “So then everybody starts sitting on these little concrete walls and they start putting up these little white picket fences so you can't sit on them.”
In her letter to city officials titled “Here’s your solution to Hemming Park,” Jenkins ended with: “Stop pushing us away and help us.”
She wrote it after the City Council this month made it easier for police to ban people who break park rules.
“I just felt in my heart it's just wrong,” she said. “It's wrong what they've been doing.”
Jenkins wants the city to bring back the downtown Day Resource Center. It was open for the homeless as a one-year pilot. It stayed open for an extra year then closed in 2015 when the city stopped funding it.
“You could go in there and take a shower; you could sit there and watch a movie if the weather was bad,” she said.
Jacksonville’s Changing Homelessness CEO Dawn Gilman said Jenkins’ feelings toward the center are widely felt by the homeless community.
“About 50 percent of the persons who went there were connected to some kind of services that they hadn’t been connected to before,” she said.
But she said most of its services were provided by other shelters, and still are. Some have since started offering more times to shower to make up for the day shelter no longer being open.
Plus, she said, people still spent their days in Hemming Park when the day shelter was open because many of the people aren’t homeless.
“Solving a visual issue of the park if very different than working to solve homelessness in Downtown Jacksonville,” Gilman said.
The center also didn’t meet one of its stated goals of lowering misdemeanor crime downtown.
Gilman said people who are single, mostly healthy and middle-aged, like Jenkins, have the fewest homeless services available to them because so much funding is directed toward veterans and disabled people.
“How do we fairly quickly rehouse those people with moderate barriers?” she said. “How do we quickly reconnect them to a job and income and get them back into a place that they can maintain in less than 90 days?”
She said there are no current city proposals to reopen the center.
“Where do you place it and how do you fund it?,” Gilman said.
A few weeks ago Jenkins found out she qualified for housing assistance from a nonprofit, but now she’s on a wait list. She said her main motivation for permanent shelter is her son’s wife is expecting a baby.
“I don't want to be on the street anymore,” she said. “I want my grandbaby to come see me.“
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Lindsey Kilbride can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, 904-358-6359 or on Twitter at @lindskilbride.