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How to Help End Homelessness in Pensacola

How to Help End Homelessness in Pensacola

 

Pensacola’s homeless population surged to the forefront of city conversation recently when it was announced that the city would be moving a well-populated encampment of people experiencing homelessness near Hollace. T. Williams Park under I-10. The city says that the reported move is necessary to clean up the park but some local activists see it as a thinly veiled attempt to evict the encampment.  The mass unemployment rates due to Covid-19 are only making matters worse for people experiencing housing insecurity. Opening Doors Northwest Florida, a local nonprofit that provides assistance and resources for the homeless populations of Santa Rosa and Escambia counties, reported in their annual Pensacola headcount, an additional 200 people added to the population of unsheltered homeless people. This number is a 34 percent increase from last year before the pandemic largely hit the United States. This number could easily rise when the CDC lifts the eviction moratorium and landlords are able to legally evict residents. The moratorium is currently extended through March, but with the increased rollout of Covid-19 vaccines, its days could be numbered.

 

Pensacola’s Citywide Response

The response from the city seems to be indicative of a tipping point in the fight to end homelessness in Pensacola. Though the underpass eviction seems like a step back, recently Mayor Grover Robinson asked the City Council to approve the spending of 200,000 dollars for homeless initiatives. Robinson seeks to follow the plan already being enacted in Tallahassee, a multiple-phase plan that starts with building a day center with resources for the homeless. However, Robinson is reluctant to follow the plan to its final phase, the building of a tiny home village to house the homeless. Robinson encouraged private sector individuals to take charge in the building of a tiny home village.

 

Big Plans for Tiny Homes

This dream of a tiny home village is already taking shape through the actions of Jim Reeves and the affordable housing nonprofit AMR. Reeves is building a pilot tiny home on East La Rua St, in order to encourage and normalize the concept of tiny homes used as starters for affordable housing. The eventual goal for Reeves is a small village of tiny homes, similar to The Dwellings in Tallahassee, that would be used to provide reasonably priced housing in order to get homeless and low-income individuals on their feet.  The project hasn’t been without setbacks though, Reeves is currently working with the county and city in order to make it easier and more affordable to obtain permits to build this type of housing.

 

Activists stepping up

The massive increase in unemployment rates, caused by Covid-19, has brought the long problem of housing insecurity to the light in many cities across the country. In Los Angeles, a city with huge populations of unhoused folks, activist and urban planner Nithya Raman ran for city council and unseated incumbent David Ryu in a runoff upset. Her strategy for winning? Providing a comprehensive, common sense, and humanity-focused plan to provide people experiencing homelessness with legal assistance, community resources, and affordable housing. These kinds of plans, formerly seen as radical, are gaining popularity in cities all across America. As Covid-19 forces us to slow down and take a look at the world around us, many activists like Caleb Houston are taking action to make that world a better place. After experiencing homelessness himself for a decade, Houston is working to not only provide housing, in the form of a village of 50 hut-like structures, but also mental health, addiction, and job assistance. Houston is building the first of his structures this weekend with a community build event called Huts 4 our Friends. The structure will be built in Brent Athletic Complex and will be able to house two people comfortably. Activists like Nithya, Jim Reeves, and Caleb Houston are just a few of the many individuals taking on this problem and working to benefit the lives of individuals experiencing homelessness in our community, and all across the country.

 

5 Easy things you can do to help

 

  1. Shop at a thrift store run by a homeless shelter. Thrifting is already an awesome way to score affordable, one-of-a-kind, usually vintage clothes, accessories, and furniture. By shopping second-hand, you’re not only helping the environment by reducing clothing waste, but you’re also helping to fund homeless shelters. Check out Waterfront Rescue Mission Thrift Store, Heavenly Blessings Thrift Store, Loaves and Fishes Thrift Store, and Helping Hands Thrift Store the next time you need a unique piece or are looking to refresh your wardrobe and help out a good cause.

 

  1. Make blessing bags and give them out. Blessing bags are small, gift types, bags full of essentials that people experiencing homelessness may not have access to. Items like toothpaste, soap, toothbrushes, deodorant, gift cards, hand sanitizer, gloves, face masks, tampons, and clean socks are all basic essentials that go into these small drawstring bags. There are plenty of resources online that provide full checklists of the most in-demand items. Get together with some friends and head to a big box store like Costco or Sam’s Club to stock up on the most amount of items. Don’t forget to include small notes of inspiration to help make someone’s day a little bit brighter.

 

  1. Volunteer if you can. There’s no better way to help than to directly spend your time and energy assisting charities like Opening Doors Northwest Florida, Loaves and Fishes Soup Kitchen, and Waterfront Rescue Mission. Even if you aren’t able to help in person contacting these organizations to see what areas they are in need of assistance in may help you connect them with volunteers in those fields who can help. Everyone has a network of unique and talented people whose resources can be used in order to help.

 

  1. Work with a local business franchise to donate resources. Many grocery stores like Publix, Winn Dixie, and Target simply throw away perfectly good food that doesn’t sell. Contact the manager of a local store and see if you can set up an agreement to pick up food that doesn’t sell to be donated to a local charitable organization or food pantry.

 

  1. Call or email your city council representative. The more noise that people make the more things will get done. Call for repealing the Camping Law that criminalizes homelessness, call for city funds to be directed to programs for homeless populations. Call for mental health professionals and social workers, not just police, to be present when handling concerns related to the homeless population. Call for access to affordable housing, especially in the rapidly rising downtown neighborhood that many unhoused people call their home. The handling of this situation shouldn’t rest solely on the hands of charitable organizations. By reframing the conversation around homelessness from a criminal one to one of providing help and humanity, the city of Pensacola can ensure safe housing for its most vulnerable residents.

 

Layers and Layers: The Ephemeral Beauty of the Graffiti Bridge

Layers and Layers:
The Ephemeral Beauty of the Graffiti Bridge
By Mitch Wisniewski

 

 

Arguably Pensacola’s most instantly recognizable landmark, the small railroad bridge, constructed in 1881 to connect Pensacola to Louisville and Nashville, has over time become covered in countless layers of paint. It’s hard to say how the Graffiti Bridge became the Graffiti Bridge that we know and love today. Much like the bridge itself, there are innumerable layers to its history. Pensacola historian John Appleyard puts 1956 as a possible date on which the bridge was first painted. That date is as likely as any other in the storied past of the bridge. Over time the bridge has adapted, now complete with its own website, Facebook, and Twitter account, all providing daily snapshots of the ever-changing face of the bridge.

This changing face has changed with the nature of our country in recent and has become a more explicitly political one. This past summer the bridge served as a meeting place for protesters expressing their outrage at racial injustice, painted stark black and grey with a Thomas Jefferson quote about the value of human life. The bridge is, in its very nature, a canvas for citizens of all political ideologies to express their beliefs, in bold and bright spray paint. I’m tempted to call the bridge bipartisan in that way, given that it featured both a Trump and Biden-themed mural around the time of the election, both painted over after the election had come and gone in its painfully extended way. But the bridge represents something deeper than simply reaching across the aisle. It’s about humanity. It’s about the proposal spray-painted on its concrete surface just a few days ago, whizzing by and hoping Pamela said yes. It’s about the quotes of positivity, the fabric of memes, caricatures, and artistic expression.

The very nature of the Graffiti Bridge is that nothing lasts forever. It holds a mirror to the world and sends back a reflection in a million colorful strokes. It is the ultimate equalizer, anyone can walk up to it with a can of spray paint and put whatever they want on it. Given that nature, there is the occasional offensive word or symbol painted but these instances are always covered up with other layers of paint. Beauty being sprayed atop of hate. Ultimately, the bridge itself is a canvas, it requires artists and everyday people alike. Teams of people from charities or schools, supporting causes, expressing grief, raising awareness with a can of paint. The bridge serves to bring people together, it unlocks a kind of freedom and abandonment of the rules. A can of spray paint on a concrete wall anywhere else is a crime, but at the bridge, it’s a tool of beauty. Take a drive down 17th avenue and slow down when you get to that curve. Take in whatever you see at the bridge, it won’t be there for long.

Five of the Best Walks in Pensacola to Help You Beat Online School Fatigue

Five of the Best Walks in Pensacola to Help You Beat Online School Fatigue

Spring semester is just getting started and, as I learned last semester, in these very strange times that means a lot of time spent hunched over a laptop, trying to look presentable for Zoom classes, and longing for the feeling of going to a physical classroom. With very few students actually on campus this semester, and the majority experiencing the endless torture of Zoom University it can feel really frustrating. I personally feel like school never ends. When scheduling your assignments rests solely on the hands of the student, it becomes difficult to not feel like you should be doing something at all times. However, I’ve found a simple way to combat this Zoom/Canvas fatigue.

I’ve been getting out of my apartment every day and taking a long walk. I started for around a half hour, then an hour, and now I’m averaging around two hours. I’ve found that it’s the best way to collect my thoughts, unplug from my phone and my laptop and enjoy everyday nature here in Pensacola. Plus if you go for a walk at sunset and listen to indie pop you get to feel like the main character in a coming-of-age movie and honestly who doesn’t want to feel like that. In an effort to help elevate us all out of our desks and onto the streets  I’ve gathered five of my favorite relaxing and beautiful walks in Pensacola. Enjoy!

The Downtowner

Downtown Pensacola is probably my favorite place to walk around at sunset, the historic homes and buildings look so beautiful at golden hour and there’s nothing like standing on the Palafox Pier and watching the colors change in the sky.

 

The Route: Start on the corner of Palafox and Garden St. Head east on Garden street until you hit S De Villiers St, take S De Villiers down to the Blue Wahoos stadium and loop around the stadium back to Main St, walk on Main until you get to the Palafox pier and head down there as well OR just continue on Main until you get to Veterans Memorial Park by the Gulf Power Building, loop around the park and walk on Romana back to where you started.

 

The Scenery: Old brick, historic houses, water views, and spanish moss.

 

The East Hill Explorer

After moving off campus this year, I recently discovered East Hill when I went for a haircut (Shoutout to Steve DuPont at East Hill Barbershop). I was shocked that after almost four years in Pensacola I hadn’t fully explored this amazing historic neighborhood. So here’s

 

The Route: Start at the East Hill Publix on the corner of Cervantes and 12th ave. While you’re there grab a little walking treat, you deserve it. Walk up 12th Ave until you get to Blount Street. Take a right on Blount and head east until you hit Bayview Park, do a few laps around Bayview or enjoy the sights of the Bayview dog beach or some of their free outdoor workout equipment if you’re feeling really fit and then head back the way you came.

 

The Scenery:  Seriously historic mansions, the cutest little shops you’ve ever seen, and swimming dogs.

 

The Campus Crawl

On the UWF campus the nature trails are great but sometimes you just don’t feel like wandering around in the woods and getting your shoes dirty.

 

The Route: Start on the Edward Ball Nature Trail loop, once finished with that little forest adventure, continue on to Campus Drive heading away from the Commons and towards the University Parkway main entrance. Take a left on Campus Lane and reconnect back with Campus Drive. From there walk past Martin and Heritage Hall ending near Lot X, you’ll find some benches with a wonderful view of the Escambia River.

 

The Scenery: Lakes, Rivers, and lots of tired college students.

 

The Beach Bum

Listen, ever since the barges decided to play pinball with the General Chappie James Memorial Bridge which connects Pensacola to Gulf Breeze during Hurricane Sally, it’s felt like the biggest schlep in the world to get to Pensacola Beach. But, provided there’s minimal traffic, it’s actually only a 25-30 minute drive from Campus. A little long sure but put a few more songs on your driving playlist and make the trip, the walk is worth it.

 

The Route: Simplest one yet, park at the big parking lot near the Beach Ball water tower and pier and walk down the convenient walking trail along Fort Pickens Road.

 

The Scenery: Sun, sand, and those signature Pensacola clear blue waters.

 

The Country Clubber

This one has such a cool aesthetic but unfortunately no sidewalks. It goes through a residential neighborhood though so it’s fairly quiet and safe.

 

The Route: Start at the Scenic Hills Country club, walk the loop north until you get to Tam O’Shanter Road, take a left and walk until you hit Greenbrier Boulevard, walk on Greenbrier until you get to the bridge with the creek, enjoy the natural creeklife and then double back to Burning Tree Road, follow the Burning Tree Loop until you end up back at the country club.

 

The Scenery: Rolling hills, manicured greens, and a lazy creek full of turtles.

 

So there you go! I hope you try out any or all five of the best walks in Pensacola. We all feel better with some sunshine on our faces and endorphins in our veins. So close your laptop and go for a walk. I’ll see you on the sidewalks.