Time to be Bold, Intentional and Strategic

Yesterday, I sat down to write this blog entry, which was supposed to be a summary of our Downtown Monthly Street Count initiative, and why it’s important.  But, then why I do what I do happened. More on that in a few paragraphs.

Changing Homelessness has partnered with Downtown Vision, Inc., Friends of Hemming Park, and other community stakeholders to conduct a monthly survey of individuals experiencing homelessness in downtown Jacksonville and determine what is needed to move them from “unsheltered” to “housed” for good. Every fourth Tuesday, we will meet in Hemming Park, and volunteers will break out into teams to conduct the survey within the downtown area.

Each zone is easily walkable in under an hour, and first-time volunteers will always be trained prior to conducting the survey and paired with an experienced volunteer or a staff member from one of our homeless service providers. The job is simple: Introduce yourself to someone who is homeless, request to ask them a few questions, and record their answers. It may sound intimidating, but in reality, conducting a homeless survey is just a basic human interaction: two people having a conversation. Sometimes, people don’t want to answer the questions– and that’s fine. Often, however, the people we speak with are grateful for someone who is willing to listen.

This is the part where I would have described, in a general way, the reasons why the Downtown Monthly Street Count is important. This is also the part that gave me pause as I tried to write this post yesterday, and I decided to take an extra day to gather my thoughts. This is because, as our event was officially kicking off at 6:00 pm, a woman collapsed to the ground in front of our tent in Hemming Park. She was homeless, she was wearing a hospital bracelet, and she was having a seizure. Cindy Ray, Social Service Specialist at Downtown Vision, and several volunteers called 9-1-1 and assisted the woman until the arrival of an ambulance and firetruck. We all stood by in silence as we waited for the woman to regain consciousness, and she quickly did.

At that point, we gathered with our volunteers who had been assisting paramedics and began to discuss the count logistics in hushed tones. For the newer volunteers, we provided training materials and helped them to access the online form for the surveys one-on-one rather than as a group exercise. During this exchange, members of Jacksonville’s City Council walked through the park and glanced over, but continued on their way. Around 6:20, it became apparent that the woman did not wish to go to the hospital with the paramedics, and we dispatched our volunteers to conduct their surveys. Eventually, the first responders left, and the woman joined some companions and ambled away.

As I left with my team to canvass our own survey zone, I couldn’t stop thinking about the scene we had just witnessed. Since many of our volunteers work for homeless service providers, no one had been surprised by the encounter. The woman had been wearing a hospital bracelet, which indicated that something similar had happened to her in the last couple of days. For 20 minutes, 4 paramedics attempted to provide her medical care, which she declined, and it was not a surprise to anyone. This exact scenario had proved to be a perfect example of the why this effort is so crucial, for so many reasons. There are many complex layers that a person might be experiencing homelessness, but a lack of healthcare is high on the list. If this woman had been stably housed, it’s unlikely that she would have found herself unconscious on the street, and needing the public emergency services that she ultimately declined. It’s also unlikely that the hospital visit she had just finished was paid for by private funds. The amount of resources spent to care for people who are homeless is astronomical: from law enforcement to medical care and everything in between. And many citizens of Jacksonville, from paramedics to homeless service providers to employees of City Hall, are no longer surprised by this.

We need to do something different to end homelessness in downtown Jacksonville. We need to be bold, intentional, and strategic in assessing needs and filling in the gaps where we find them. Nobody is homeless downtown because they want to be, but for many of these people, it feels impossible to make it off the streets. Many of these people have given up. This is why we need volunteers to assist with this effort and talk to as many people as possible who are homeless downtown: we need to find out exactly what it is they need, and then we need to figure out how to provide that.

I hope you’ll consider joining us for one of our upcoming counts. This is important work, and we need all hands on deck. The next three counts will occur on June 26, July 24, August 28, and you can register to attend any of them. More information is available here.


Author: Ciera Smith, Community Engagement & Development Associate

3 replies
  1. Lanelle
    Lanelle says:

    Thank you for including the community in this event and creating an opportunity for more of us to learn about homelessness in our neighborhoods.


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