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.