Jacksonville Committee Continues To Meet on City’s Homeless Situation, Driving Toward 5-Year Plan

By Benjamin Cox on October 25, 2023 at 11:47am

A Jacksonville committee met yesterday to continue working on solutions to help the area’s homeless population.

The Homelessness Steering Committee met in the commission room at the Jacksonville Municipal Building. The committee is actually a committee of the whole of two subcommittees that are focused on housing the homeless population and the other focuses on health needs of the homeless population.

The full committee is currently working towards a 5-year plan to help get the homeless population to functional zero. Functional zero is a milestone for a community to reach that means they have the capacity to take in as many people as are exiting homelessness and never return to it.

Jacksonville Memorial Hospital Community Health Coordinator Claire Peak took over the head of the committee recently as she was moved into the position. Peak takes over for Lori Hartz who resigned from Memorial Health after a series of payrolls cuts and restructuring to the hospital system in August. Another key leader in Memorial Health’s work on homelessness, Becky Gabany who was Memorial Health’s System Director on Community Health was also a part of the cuts in Memorial Health’s restructuring.

Peak, who has been working for the Community Health Department since February of last year says she wants to continue many of Hartz’s projects and wanted to ensure that this project did not fall through the cracks: “I’m just hoping to coordinate the discussions and make sure it’s still a project that is ongoing. I think there is a lot of coordination among community groups in Jacksonville. What I learned here today is that a lot of these agencies in their own, individual work are coordinating with each other to help individuals in our community who are experiencing homelessness. There has been a great turnout to, I think, most of the prior meetings and this one, as well. I think there is still some major players who are social service agencies that we need to hear from to get their input so we can help and institute a plan moving forward.”

Peak knows concerns are growing about homelessness because of the number of people currently visibly staying on the Downtown Square during the overnight hours. She says that community partners are already working on ways to help get those individuals in out of the elements as the winter draws near: “I know that Locust Street [Resource Center], the former Community Hope & Recovery location, opened up in the past few months around the Square. They are opening their doors for a warming & cooling center during the day to address those individuals that are hanging out around the Square. We hope to bring together individual groups like Locust Street, the Salvation Army, the soup kitchen, New Directions the local homeless shelter to discuss what resources they already have and then find what barriers individuals are still facing.”

The homelessness steering committee meets every other month and currently has representatives from the Jacksonville Police Department’s Chaplain’s Office, the Salvation Army, New Directions, Prairieland United Way, the Regional Office of Education, and the area’s United Methodist Churches.