City Rescue Mission to have expanded role
Published by Florida Times-Union on November 29, 2012.
Jacksonville Mayor Alvin Brown wants to put a homeless day center at the City Rescue Mission's downtown location, an announcement that could be made as early as Thursday.
A number of details still have to be worked out about the site, including what type of staffing would be needed, how much space the center would need, what improvements have to be made to the building and who would pay for it all.
Still, a day center would fit in well with the mission's long-term focus on helping homeless people with chemical dependencies, Executive Director David Bugher said.
"If we can be helpful in this way, we'd be very happy, " he said.
City Hall would not confirm if it had picked a site or when it might make an announcement. Spokesman David DeCamp would only say the city was "making progress."
Several people involved with homeless advocacy issues, though, said they expect a news conference Thursday.
Setting up such a center - which would be open only during the day and would provide access to things like showers, washing machines and service providers - has long been a goal of Brown. He promised during the campaign for the office to set up a center by year's end.
"A day center is one of the key strategies from a national model for ending homelessness, " said Carolyn Hillhouse-Jones, who handles homeless issues for the 39-church Interchurch Coalition for Action, Reconciliation and Empowerment, known as ICARE. "It's not the only strategy, but it's an important piece."
ICARE has long pushed for a day center and it was to that group that Brown made his promise.
Such a center has practical benefits as well as humanitarian ones, Hillhouse-Jones said, including cutting down on misdemeanor arrests and helping homeless people know more about programs that can help.
The success of the center will be judged on two criteria, said Dawn Gilman, executive director of the Emergency Services and Homeless Coalition of Northeast Florida: Does it increase people connecting with services and does it decrease arrests?
Brown reiterated last month that he still was aiming for a December opening, although his office acknowledges that having a site up and running by then will be difficult.
The administration ran into some opposition last month when residents of the Springfield neighborhood heard the city was looking at the nearby old Armory building as a site for the center. At a meeting of community residents, Brown promised the center would be downtown, but not near the historic neighborhood.
City Rescue Mission, which has been around since 1946, fits that desire, as does its experience in dealing with homeless-related issues, something advocates say is key to success.
During the decades it has been operating, Bugher said, the mission has focused on helping homeless people deal with the root causes of their situation; the day center would widen the number of people it can help do so.
"We want that day center to be used to help more people gain self-sufficiency, " Bugher said. "We're not interested in having a day center make homelessness more comfortable."