The Alachua County Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) voted Monday to provide $150,000 for GRACE Marketplace’s emergency shelter, allowing full services for the next fiscal year and covering a shortfall from the city of Gainesville.
The unanimous vote came at a joint meeting with Gainesville, but the BOCC pushed a final decision for a second funding request of $350,000 for Sept. 5.
The second set of funds would cover GRACE’s Street Outreach program. However, conversation shifted at the meeting from whether Alachua County would fund the program to if the county would entirely run the program instead of GRACE.
Jon DeCarmine, executive director of GRACE, said he hadn’t heard of the possibility before the meeting.
“In the spirit of partnership, I would have expected—particularly if this came up over the weekend—to at least have been given a heads up that the meeting that we were discussing funding for outreach would turn into whether the county would take over the team,” DeCarmine said to the joint commissions.
Commissioner Ken Cornell brought up the possibility. He said he’d like the city of Gainesville to fulfill its obligation to provide the final $150,000 for the emergency shelter and for the county to provide the $350,000 for the outreach team and to take over management of the team.
The Street Outreach team is currently funded through American Rescue Plan Act funds from the city. Because of the funding source, the team remains within city limits. Funding for the team will run out on November 30, DeCarmine said.
Claudia Tuck, director of community support services, said the team could fit under her department and cover the entire county, but she said the coordination wasn’t fully formed in her mind. She said the county has run similar outreach in the past through a federal grant.
The city of Gainesville and Alachua County used to fund the emergency shelter at $750,000 each. The five-year agreement started in 2019, but then the county began moving toward providing funds for permanent supportive housing.
The two governments decided to increase overall funding for homelessness to $3 million—the city financing the $1.5 million for the emergency shelter while the county used $1.5 million for permanent housing.
The upcoming fiscal year—Oct. 1, 2023, through Sept. 30, 2024—is the last year in the five-year plan.
City Commissioner Reina Saco asked the county to provide the $500,000 needed to fully fund GRACE’s emergency shelter and outreach team for the final year. She said the county, city and GRACE could then renegotiate the contract and look at where to place the outreach team.
BOCC Chair Anna Prizzia commended the city for returning to the county will an actual dollar amount instead of the initial ask to provide as much as possible. She said the city showed its commitment by increasing funding for GRACE from 50% to 90%.
She added that the county has the funds to make whole GRACE’s financials.
BOCC Commissioner Mary Alford asked what benefit, financial or otherwise, the county or residents would get from controlling the team.
GRACE personnel and DeCarmine said the nonprofit can do the work for less money and more effectiveness. He said that the team won national awards for its work to clear Dignity Village, a homeless encampment in northeast Gainesville, three years ago.
“The goal of the county in taking over this team, from what you said, would be to provide stability to the outreach team and services to the entire county,” DeCarmine said at the meeting. “Funding from the county, without taking over the team, would provide that exact same benefit. Knowing that we have the funding would provide the stability. Funding from the county would allow us to move outside of the [city].”
Alford made a motion for the county to pay both programs with $500,000, but no one seconded. Cornell made a motion to pay $150,000 to support the emergency shelter and have staff return Sept. 5 with recommendations on the outreach team.
The recommendations would include benefits and drawbacks of county management along with what BOCC projects may need to be stalled to divert $350,000 to the program.