Calls to JSO increase 400% at downtown Jacksonville homeless camp

Jacksonville, FL. — Data released by the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office shows deputies responded to three calls for service at the Jefferson Street homeless camp from January 1, 2020 to February 24, 2020. In that same time frame in 2020, calls to service jumped to 15, which is a 400% increase.

“It’s now becoming a health hazard. We’re in the midst of a pandemic — to have a hepatitis break on top of that would not be good,” Dawn Gilman, the CEO of Changing Homelessness, said. “It feels like at night, that camp is becoming less safe.”

The Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office is responding to calls at the site, which Gilman said takes them away from other issues across the city.

“[Building affordable housing] would put more people to work, and it would provide housing for folks which reduces 911 calls. JSO responds less. Less ambulance calls. Less people in the ER with things.”

She said the only solution to homelessness is a home and encourages city leaders to invest in affordable housing options for individuals.

While the City of Jacksonville works to offer help to individuals facing homelessness on the streets, the homeless camp at Jefferson and Union Streets continues to grow.

Since April 2020, the city worked with six different organizations, including Changing Homelessness, to place people in hotels and eventually transition them into permanent housing. The program cost about $2.9 million, with about $800,000 going towards hotel rooms in the past four months.

It was funded by both state and city CARES Act funding, which Dawn Gilmam, the CEO of Changing Homelessness, said will need to be reallocated.

Since April 2020, the program has assisted 314 people with hotel stays and there’s currently 189 program participants in hotels across Northeast Florida. Gilman said the average stay is up to 50 days, but it takes up to 11 months to get them the resources necessary to find permanent housing.

“For every dollar spent on hotels, we need three to four more dollars for housing support,” Gilman said.

She added that the ability to use these funds for hotels will also come to an end in January 2022 and they’ll need to shift their focus to rapid re-housing.

The program focused on the Jefferson Street camp most recently and moved 48 people into hotels.

After word got out, the camp grew in size with people looking for help.

Gilman added that the influx of people at the site are not new to Jacksonville, but rather individuals that have come from others parts of Duval County hoping to get help.

Sulzbacher’s homeless shelter is kept to 70% capacity for COVID-19 and City Rescue Mission is at 75% which means less beds for homeless individuals.

Gilman said they are looking at disaster shelters that can be propped up to help in these circumstances.

Action News Jax’s Robert Grant noticed “No Trespassing” signs placed at the corners of the site.

Brennan Reed, a community activist, has been volunteering at the camp since it started.

He said the signs were put up Wednesday morning.

“We’re running into the issue where if you shut it down and these people disperse, you’re going to put hundreds of homeless people back out onto the streets scattered out.”

Action News Jax reached out to the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office and the City of Jacksonville to see if there are plans to clear the camp or when trespassing laws will be enforced.