April 5, 2014

Background check policy at homeless center sparks disagreement

4-5-2014 Florida:

Amid differences of opinion and some pointed words, a majority of the City Commission spoke in support of the Alachua County Coalition for the Homeless & Hungry's plan not to turn anyone away from the soon-to-open homeless assistance center and shelter because of their criminal history.

"If people are not being served at the empowerment center because of their background, they're still out there (on the streets)," Commissioner Lauren Poe said.

Poe added that a homeless person with a criminal record who was in fact a threat to others would then be on the streets, not receiving counseling or services, and still be a threat.

Poe and Commissioner Yvonne Hinson-Rawls also said the purpose of the center — which eventually is planned to include job training, access to counseling and a medical clinic — is to break someone with troubles such as a criminal record out of the cycle of homelessness.

In February, the City Commission approved a contract for the coalition to operate and oversee services at the city-owned facility at the former Gainesville Correctional Institution property off Northeast 39th Avenue. The center will open May 1 with initial services of meals and storage space for personal possessions.

The homeless coalition's policy for background checks first caused debate and discussion at the joint County Commission-City Commission meeting of March 24. At the request of City Commissioner Todd Chase, who spoke in support of checks for safety reasons at that joint meeting, the City Commission revisited the issue Thursday.

"Unless someone tells me otherwise, I am responsible for what happens out there," Chase said. "The buck stops here." ..Continued.. by Christopher Curry

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