Candidates for several Northeast Florida offices gathered in the basement of a downtown Jacksonville church Thursday to talk about addressing homelessness.
For just over an hour, five Democrats and one Republican traded ideas and answered questions from members of the group Changing Homelessness.
Much of the conversation focused on state and federal funding for family shelters and mental health treatment.
Incumbent Democratic State Representative Reggie Fullwood said he’s fought to stop cuts to Florida’s dedicated homelessness trust fund. One way to tackle the problem is changing the perception of who a homeless person is, Fullwood said.
“I know the face of homelessness and it’s not the guys hanging out at Hemming Plaza. It’s the families and often times it’s working-class families that are one paycheck away from not having somewhere to live,” he said.
But Republican public defender candidate Charles Cofer cautioned against assumptions.
“I think a lot of people think that all of the people that congregate around Hemming Plaza are homeless. I’m not sure that’s the case. I think you have a combination of homeless; a combination of retirees; a combination of people who like congregating there so they can see their friends every day,” he said.
Cofer said, if elected, he’d work to strengthen court diversion programs that ensure people whose arrests stem from homelessness can get the help they need.
All candidates expressed support for creating a Duval County central receiving facility that would act as a hub for homeless people who have run-ins with the law. A similar facility piloted in Miami-Dade County helps people stay out of jail and get connected to services.
Full list of candidates and offices:
- Leslie Jean-Bart, D-Candidate for State House District 14
- Dave Bruderly, D-Candidate for 4th Congressional District
- Charles Cofer, R-Candidate for Public Defender – 4th Judicial District
- Rep. Reggie Fullwood, D-State House District 13
- LaShonda “LJ” Holloway, D-Candidate for Congressional District 5
- Gracie Bell McCastler, D-Candidate for State House District 14