Local homeless policies fail to protect businesses and citizens

Mess left by homeless person on porch of home near the university



Frederick Bastiat’s seminal work, The Law, summarized the work of Thomas Hobbes, John Locke, and our Founding Fathers. It states that the purpose of government is to protect life, liberty, and property. By that standard, both the Alachua County Commission and Gainesville City Commission are abject failures. Not only do they fail to protect the life and property of their respective citizens, but they openly encourage homeless and drug-addicted people from other areas to flock to Gainesville, and they push the myth of mass incarceration to neuter the police and create a revolving door at the county jail that gives career criminals ample opportunities to disrupt the lives of others.

Attracting vagrants

It seems you can’t go through an intersection in Gainesville these days without seeing panhandlers. That may be an expected sight for people moving here from out of the area, but it was not the norm prior to 2016, when the destructive duo of Lauren Poe and Harvey Ward accelerated the Gainesville-to-Portland conversion program. They managed to exacerbate a problem that was supposed to be already solved by the Gainesville Region/Alachua County Empowerment (GRACE) for the Homeless 10-year plan to end homelessness that was announced in 2005. (We’re seeing similar “success,” by the way, with the school board’s 10-year plan to close the black-white performance gap.) 

Despite the best intentions of GRACE Marketplace and the millions of dollars poured into resources for the homeless in this county, the homeless problem in Gainesville is getting worse. It’s a basic economic principle that you get more of what you reward. Reports may claim the number of homeless people is lower, but the 42% increase in GRACE Marketplace’s operating costs between 2019 and 2021 suggests otherwise.

I’m not blaming GRACE Marketplace. I’ve toured the facility and think they do great work for those who genuinely want to be helped. GRACE is a “low-barrier” shelter, but there are some people who can’t or won’t give up the drugs. These people congregated in the lawless “Dignity Village,” which has since been cleared and re-cleared–so now they’re roaming our streets.

Many of these people are harmless, but a lot have mental health issues and/or suffer from addiction problems that prevent them from being able to care for themselves. Many are a nuisance to local businesses: loitering, trespassing, stealing, leaving trash, battering employees, and pestering customers. There are also some who are genuinely dangerous. Just last month, there was a rash of crimes committed by people from GRACE Marketplace. These three reports on January 28, January 30, and January 31 cover 12 different people arrested at GRACE Marketplace. This diverts police resources from other parts of town and drives some homeless away from GRACE, which explains why we seem to have tent cities forming on every vacant lot in Gainesville.

Ignoring crime

It doesn’t help that officials frequently refuse to charge the homeless for any crimes–or drop charges after they are arrested. For example, when five people were found squatting in the County’s empty “supportive housing” complex at the old Budget Inn, Alachua County spokesman Mark Sexton said the County chose not to pursue criminal charges on the trespassers because “If we can avoid it, we don’t want homeless people to go to jail.” The crime in this case was not homelessness, but trespassing and property damage that will be repaired with taxpayer money. Rather than put them in jail (by definition, temporary housing), the County would rather these five find another property to vandalize.

This growing homeless population, mixed with our elected officials embracing the national fads of simultaneously defunding the police and implementing “criminal justice reform,” is making Gainesville streets more dangerous than ever before.

Elected officials from the school board to the county commission have been looking for excuses to avoid incarcerating criminals because of perceived “institutional racism” and the “school-to-prison pipeline.” They want the demographics of students and criminals being punished to mirror the demographics of the population, without regard to the demographics of people actually committing acts worthy of punishment.

Eliminating punishment incentivizes bad behavior, so we should expect more bad behavior. The school board’s misguided equity plan in 2018 called for reducing the suspension gap between white and black students, which was accomplished by simply not referring black students for suspension. As predicted, this has resulted in a massive discipline problem in schools that is affecting teacher retention. The problem is bad enough that Diyonne McGraw made a special presentation during the school board’s workshop on February 8. 

Defunding the police

June 2020 seems to be the major turning point in implementing policies that make life easier for criminals. That month, the City of Gainesville voted to eliminate funding for school resource officers (SRO) and the Joint Aviation Unit, although the vote to end funding for SROs was just for show, since they are still funding them. They also signed a Memorandum of Understanding for a pre-arrest deflection program. The following month, the commission voted to consider reducing the use of sworn officers at the Gainesville Police Department (GPD). This year, GPD effectively eliminated its K-9 unit, possibly pressured by the City Commission’s response to public outrage over the Terrell Bradley apprehension (GPD just announced that the K-9 unit has been reinstated, but it only has two handlers, down from five in November 2022).

Criminal Justice Reform = Prison Break

The City of Gainesville originally used COVID-19 as an excuse to try to empty the jails of non-violent prisoners, and now some County Commissioners want to let criminals out because of manpower shortages. At a Special Meeting on February 7, County Commissioner Marihelen Wheeler said, “If we can have a whole look at keeping people back out in the community rather than in the jails, that will address the fact that we don’t have enough staff to take care of people either.” (Search the transcript here for the seventh occurrence of “jail” or watch the video here at the 3:40:15 mark).

There always seems to be some kind of excuse to let prisoners out. Sometimes the argument is that people are only there for administrative issues like violating a court order or failing to appear. Others claim that there are massive numbers of people in jail for minor drug offenses, but that is simply not true. Of the 6,742 individual bookings at the Alachua County Jail in 2022, only 4 of them were an individual whose only charge was marijuana possession under 20 grams. 

Since we publish the booking logs daily, we see the revolving door of the same criminals being arrested over and over. In 2022, there were 18 people who were each booked more than 5 times. We frequently see days like February 8, 2023, where 15 of the 17 individuals booked were repeat offenders (violations of probation or pre-trial release) or were arrested for failing to appear at a hearing for previous charges.

The results of these policies are clear. The number of total bookings only increased 1% increase from 2021 to 2022, but GPD data shows a 3% increase in crime (based on the 10 crimes listed in their annual report to the city). GPD also reported a 17% increase in stolen firearms and a 36% increase in “shots fired” incidents.

Stop repeat offenders

Simply eliminating diversion programs and dropped charges would make a big difference in the number of crimes committed by preventing repeat offenders. Last year, 25.9% of all jail bookings (26.7% of all charges) were people being arrested for a second time in the same year. That’s based on data from our 2022 Jail Booking Log Summary: 6,742 individuals booked (some multiple times) with a total of 14,014 charges; removing additional bookings for the same individual drops the total to 4,999 bookings with 10,271 charges. Our articles about arrests frequently point out previous dropped charges and violations of pre-trial release or probation conditions; the implication is clear that these crimes would not have been committed if the defendant had been held accountable for the previous arrests.

Obviously, people are innocent until proven guilty, so holding them in jail until trial would be a tough sell, but there is no escaping the conclusion that removing repeat offenders from the streets would greatly reduce crime in our community. It should be fairly simple to revoke bond for anyone who fails to appear at a mandatory hearing. They have demonstrated no intent to obey the law, so they should be held in the county jail until their trials. Also, anyone arrested on a violation of probation should not be released on bond to await a new trial or simply have probation reinstated with the same terms. These are repeat offenders who have already been convicted of crimes; the privilege of pre-trial release should be reserved for non-violent, first-time offenders.

Discourage dependency

Solving the homeless problem is a tougher issue, but clearly the current plan is a complete failure. Rather than incentivizing more homeless people to flock to the area, we need policies to discourage the migration and to actually help them rather than encourage repeated criminal and destructive behavior. All social services should require drug testing. Rather than funneling money to drug dealers through homeless addicts, we should invest that money into a residential rehabilitation facility. That way, we can genuinely help those who want to be helped and stop the endless funding wasted on addicts who don’t want to help themselves. It is not compassionate to simply “allow” those who are unable to support themselves for reasons of addiction or mental illness to live on the streets or in the woods.

Getting the homeless off the streets is not rocket science. A 2013 Brookings Institute report found that 98 percent of people who complete three simple steps live above the poverty level: (1) finish high school, (2) get a full-time job, (3) wait until age 21 to get married and have kids. A program to get people sober is the first step in getting them ready to be productive members of the community. Those who don’t want to get sober, don’t deserve to keep living off the taxpayers.

Treat the mentally ill

For the mentally impaired, the County needs a way to house and treat them (this will require State financial support and new legislation). Currently, people can only be involuntarily hospitalized if they are a threat to themselves or others. We need a new hospital to house those who are unable to take care of themselves but are not necessarily a threat. This is not an inexpensive solution, and it is one of those things that will likely be opposed by both the right and the left, for different reasons, but it is better for the community than the revolving door of people committing crimes, going to jail, transferring to a local rehabilitation hospital or the state mental hospital, and then being released to commit more crimes after completing a 30-day stay or being found incompetent to stand trial.

GRACE Marketplace, a “low-barrier” shelter, attracts people to our area who are unable or unwilling to follow rules at other facilities that provide homeless services. A substantial number of people are later trespassed from GRACE for various offenses and then move onto someone else’s property. Cities like San Francisco that have long welcomed homeless people and refugees are changing course and pledging to hire more police and crack down on drugs as downtown fills up with tent cities and a “rampant fentanyl crisis.” We don’t have to let Gainesville get that bad before changing course.

If our local elected officials want to actually defend the life, liberty, and property of law-abiding citizens in Alachua County, they need a new approach. Virtue-signaling platitudes on helping the poor and “criminal justice reform” that defunds police and coddles criminals have made our community less safe. It’s time to actually get tough on crime (including “minor crimes” like petit theft and battery that harm businesses and citizens) and tailor assistance programs to those who want to help themselves while cutting off those who refuse to get sober or who pose a threat to the community.

      • Yet despite your belief of it having no substance, it managed to keep your simple mind captivated. No wonder you’re so easily fooled into believing whatever current liberal leaders tell you.

    • 1. This is public record, but nobody ever does the math….Since 2005, what is the total yearly budget of Grace Marketplace divided by the
      Homeless people who received the service? I don’t remember who
      The land belongs to, but I know taxpayer money was spent to develop the property which included putting in a kitchen. There’s the free RTS bus passes which taxpayers pay for…what does it cost taxpayers each time
      GPD has to go out there to respond to an incident? What was the total Grace budget for 2022 and how many people received benefits. I want to know how much taxpayer money is spent per day on each homeless person receiving benefits at Grace… what does it cost? Total yearly budget divided by homeless served at Grace divided by 365 days in a year..

      2. Other counties release their jail inmates to Alachua county to receive benefits at Grace and this
      Practice needs to stop.

      3. Rodney the bail bondsman pitched this as the 10 year plan
      To end homelessness…the increased crime it has brought to our community certainly has enriched him with increased business…

      4. I think drug testing is appropriate to make sure the homeless people get the medical help they need.

      5. A dormitory and work program
      For homeless will help homeless get back on the right path.

      6. Enlarge the jail and consolidate Meridian and Grace services there
      With that dorm workforce/work release program.

      7. Besides my taxpayer money being spent, I had $1000 in damages because a homeless person squatted on my front porch and kicked in an expensive door….I never got restitution and the SAO dropped the charges and released him back in the community to do the same BS again…he may finally be locked up now…I had to clean up all his crap
      And vape pipes and marijuana pipes, & trash….the city & county
      Needs to have zero tolerance
      On vagrants, panhandlers, & trespassing.

  • Man what a trash ass take.. yeaaaaah Blame wokeness blah blah.. 😑.. what a moronic and simplistic take to what the underlying problem is and that’s affordable housing and real mental health care.. she blamed local politicians for a systemic problem how childish 🙄.. like the laws are being made in Tallahassee by Democrats not Republicans.. we do have a big problem with homeless people leaving 😕 trash at places where they migrate to but its always in the most poverty stricken areas of Gainesville.. Haile Plantation isn’t dealing with that nor is Thornebrooke village area.. I’m sure doesn’t live in the areas she’s dumping on.. so shut up and thump your chest at real problems in Florida like the rise in antisemitism and racism in Florida or is that a woke issue 🤔 2.. such a out of touch pathetic 😪 take on the issue 🙄.. but gives the racist d bags something to talk about..

    • Spoken like a true democrat who believes they should be here how about you bring a couple home post us some pictures of them at your table

    • To find the presence of vermin such as rats repulsive and vile does not necessarily constitute inherent prejudice against the whole rat “race.” Humans with any sense of decency and decorum naturally find an infestation of vermin to be repugnant because vermin spread nothing but filth and disease. The fundamental problem with Gainesville is that it is governed mostly by a gang of psychotic low lifes who themselves are vermin and feel quite comfortable in the presence of similar critters, thinking as they do that rats are really oh no nice once you get to know them. Thus Gainesville has become a magnet for some of the trashiest elements of a decrepit American society where the rats are subsidized to expand their ever growing numbers. Perhaps a new Pied Piper party ought to emerge in Alachua County?

  • At the end of the day, blaming organizations like GRACE for “attracting” homeless people to Gainesville and going off on a tangent about equity in unrelated school policies is a disappointing take. However, I agree that mental health resources need to be allocated to help the homeless.

    • Lyn, how can any woman feel safe when she must function in an environment of violent, degenerate bums who prey on vulnerable innocent victims? Left wing “woke” liberals always mouth off about freedom, but to them freedom means more liberty for the scumbags to make good people feel less free and less safe. Any decent person who has a few remaining working brain cells can answer the question “is my city better off with all the human garbage running free?” Look at Baltimore, Detroit, Philadelphia, etc., which have become horrible, violent freak shows thanks to “woke” politicians who call themselves leaders. These petty little pukes couldn’t lead me across a street, and without their lucrative government job they might also be living on the street since they are not even qualified to run a lemonade stand.

  • We need housing designed for individuals, not forcing min. wage workers to shack up “to share expenses” and proceed to ruin their lives and so many children too. We used to build efficiency size housing for single adults, owned, not rented. We need to do that again.
    Most of the addiction aspect of homelessness comes from coping with people they live and work with, a slippery slope that makes them LESS sympathetic to those same people they can’t stand.
    Politicians can’t understand most people do not like being around other people 24/7, unlike them. Most need time alone and just one job, not two or three jobs.

    • Jeff: me paying for someone’s free housing ain’t the answer…
      Personal responsibility is the answer.

  • 3 jobs? Multi-taskers? Let’s see – Stealing, Pan-handling, AND Drug-Dealing? Who has time for all that?

  • Nice piece.

    Seems we have a tale of two cities. We have Gainesville before Poe & Ward – the best of times, and we have Gainesville since Poe & Ward – the worst of times.

    Liberals, hope you like what you’ve done to the place

  • Chicago, one of the Democrats favorite examples of their idea of utopia, was reported yesterday to have 53 schools with ZERO students up to grade (fifth and eighth) in math or reading. This is a school district that receives billions in tax money each year. What could have gone wrong? You can’t blame lack of money. You can’t blame all of this on teachers. What is left? Maybe Democrat political policies about schooling and raising children?

  • The current government policy of mollycoddling the vagrants will evolve into a downtown that no one wants to go to due to all the homeless harassment and crime. Better think twice as businesses will close and there goes your tax base. Oh…almost forgot….they’ll just raise the GRU rate and property taxes to make up the difference. Springs county can’t come fast enough!

  • ‘Nice piece, Len.

    I cannot remember when I have last read any reference to the ‘social contract’ (Hobbes, Locke, et al) in a newspaper. Addressing the relationship and responsibilities between the rulers and the ruled does require something more than bumper sticker epithets designed to elect and govern through innuendo.

    Jacksonville seems to have taken action against panhandlers by also citing those who ‘contribute to them.’

    The operative phrase regarding the vagrants/homeless in Gainesville is “those who genuinely want to be helped.”

    I guess I’m waiting for that feel good story of a former Gainesville vagrant who received his BA from UF. Or, one who started their own business. Or, just one who hasn’t been arrested in the past year.

    A few years ago, there was a story about vagrants being ‘dropped off’ in Gainesville from other Florida cities because of Gainesville’s tolerances for vagrants. Moving the problem from one area to another is not a solution but it is ‘action’ rather than talk.

    The first mistake being made is to, through good-hearted intentions, perceive and discriminate the differences between “those who genuinely want to be helped” and those who do not. As soon as that mindset is in place the result is the status quo in Gainesville.

    The second mistake being made is to appeal to the same political leadership which, due to inaction, is content with the status quo.

    The third mistake being made is to think there are enough Gainesville residents concerned about the problem to make a leadership change for one which will deal directly with the problem. When we see protests in the streets against the vagrants, pigs will fly overhead.

    But, yes, Len, the foundation and political authority from which to build a solution is the Social Contract.

    When the very weak are leaders, they can only serve the very weak and be easily exploited by stronger, disinterested influences. That’s where Gainesville and Alachua County are today.

    • I grew up in central NY (not NYC , the other part of the state 😉 ) I have seen this done for decades from NYC to every other city in NYS. They would arrest homeless people and give them 2 choices, stay and go to jail, or take this free bus ticket to one of 6 places, Albany, Utica, Syracuse, Rochester, Binghamton or Buffalo.

  • Recognizing problems (like homelessness) and trying to solve them can be compassionate, but only if the solution works. Gainesville is full of unintentioned consequences, such as a rise in homelessness and crime, despite lots of money and programs spent in an attempt to help. The problem is that the solutions being deployed now are not actually helpful. I appreciate this thoughtful article and the attempt to course correct. I’m another citizen who no longer feels safe in certain areas of Gainesville. Used to take my children to the main library weekly, but we stopped going when it became a defacto homeless shelter. Another huge waste of taxpayer money.

    • “despite lots of money and programs spent in an attempt to help”

      The only people that got helped with that money were the new people who got jobs to spend said money. it used to be that the churches and local community organizations would deal with these issues, but apparently the local government would rather get in the way and spend twice as much to get the same results.

  • What’s the annual budget at Grace divided by the homeless Served there divided by365 days in a year?We probably spend $1000/mo
    For each put in affordable housing and $10,000/year for each homeless child in addition to welfare & food stamps..

    • You want a cost-benefit analysis for the money being spent at Grace and it’s positive effect on homelessness…if it’s not working, then they need to sunset the plan.
      Keep throwing money at it and it keeps getting worse is the definition of insanity. It’s governments job to tax & regulate and citizens need to practice personal responsibility for the system to work. We encourage good behavior. Bad behavior needs modification…incarceration works. Work release works. Taxpayers paying for free loaders doesn’t fix anything. Personal responsibility is the key. Zero tolerance on vagrancy, crime, drug addicts, panhandling. Reduce the size & scope of Grace to 3 days help or a one way ticket back to where you belong…we can’t make every vagrant on the planets’ problems our local tax payers problems…it won’t work. I have enough problems of my own…

  • We also need a more vibrant (more normal) economy for a city so that anybody can find some sort of job. I’ve been saying for a long time that GRACE should partner with a handful of private enterprises and put the homeless people to work. At the same time, I realize that most of the vagrants are afflicted with the same laziness genes that keep GeeZus posting here full-time instead of getting a job, so they would probably have a sore back every day or some other reason not to work. I would submit that Rationality is the cure for (or opposite of) so-called Wokeness. We need a Return to Rationality.

    • You might get a few that will work,
      But the vagrant bunch are lazy drug addict convict felons…they’ll do anything not to work….they’re useless.

      The Grace Marketplace & homelessness is big business…What does it cost the taxpayers/year. How much goes to administration and food, other expenses and contracts. How much does it cost the taxpayer to
      Service one homeless client at Grace/day?

  • Great article. I believe that we need to find low-skill ways to incentivize homeless to contribute to society and optionally slowly pull themselves out of homelessness (realistically many can’t or won’t).

    Round up homeless, identify them, and bus them somewhere to do any kind of low skill work like cleaning up city blocks, sweeping parking lots, cleaning medians, even work that prisoners normally do, like digging ditches / etc.

    Predictable steps are important. You work for 2 hrs, you get breakfast. Two more hours you get a snack. Two hours, lunch. Two more hours a snack, $20, and a secure, patrolled spot to sleep for the night (like those Arizona prison tents). You quit early or break the rules (drugs, not reporting back on time), you’re cut for the day. Three strikes and you’re out of the program for 6 months. You can choose to stay in the tents for the weekend for $10/night. While you are in good status with program you have a mailing address and rudimentary banking services (cash withdrawal/deposit).

    Homeless that won’t participate are simply jailed for any crimes they may commit like they should have been all along.

    This might not be the exact answer but I believe that they need this kind of structured, continuous reward / guaranteed consequence program to occupy their time and provide a decent tradeoff for their current “freedom”. Guaranteed meals, a small but not dangerous amount of cash, and a safe place to spend the night would tempt those that could still be salvaged.

    Funding would come from eliminating the other failed programs and using half their existing budget.

    • Gainesville Dad: thats a good plan
      To help them and give them the support they need to succeed.

  • FEEDING the ” stray cats” Does NOT make them go away .. We Used to Have more people living at ” Sunland” .. Liberals ” deemed” that was mean Lock Crazy Folks in Hospitals till they got well.. Now we have a ” problem” Democrats keep feeding …

  • Has anyone else noticed the homeless encampments around the old tag office on 34th Street? I used to park there to go to the farmers market but not anymore!

    • Sorry to say Joe, that is so. The guy pushes his car near the building and then back to a space. I’m wondering when he’s going to claim “squatter’s rights” and assume ownership since it’s been abandoned.

      City keeps the vagrants off city property, (except the medians & sidewalks), the county lets people set up camp, (it’s the same way at the downtown tag agency) at night. It’s only a matter of time before some world famous attorney gets involved. That’s why the private Gestapo keeps people away from City Hall, couple years ago when the city employee got attacked.

  • “The pre-arrest deflection plan” is failing. Time to end that social experiment…I knew it wouldn’t work.

    Time for zero tolerance and making Grace Mktplc smaller and only temporary 3 day. Send them one way back to where they belong…

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