U. Florida Residents Feed Homeless

They call her the “rat lady,” but she doesn’t mind. As one of more than 800 homeless Alachua County residents, Cindy Ganyo said she openly displays her pet rodent not out of desire but out of necessity. “He’s a safety factor,” she said. “People leave me alone if they know I’ve got him.” Ganyo, a Gainesville substitute teacher, attended the sixth-annual Breakfast on the Plaza, run by the Alachua County Coalition for the Homeless and Hungry. At 9 a.m. Thursday, more than 60 people stood in line at the Downtown Community Plaza to receive plates filled with scrambled eggs, grits, sausage and bacon. Jim Bowe, a middle-aged homeless man, said he hasn’t worked for three years. He came to Gainesville six months ago and now receives assistance from Veterans Providing A Caring Environment, a veteran-run organization that assists homeless veterans. Bowe said job training, clothing donations and supportive housing are examples of VETSPACE programs that help homeless persons integrate back into society. “They help us out,” he said. “They get us off the street and give us clothes.” Tanyah Barnes, a University of Florida senior dual-majoring in business administration and computer science, volunteers with UF’s chapter of Helping Our Men Eat. She said she didn’t realize there were so many homeless people in Gainesville. “It’s mind-blowing,” said Barnes, adding that everyone she met at the breakfast was appreciative. After the breakfast began, Mayor Tom Bussing read a proclamation recognizing Nov. 16 to Nov. 22 as National Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week. Jim Hencin, Gainesville’s block grant manager, said the city’s primary role has been to administer grants for various programs, such as the Peaceful Paths Domestic Abuse Network and the St. Francis House. He said the Gainesville City Commission will appoint a committee in the near future to discuss establishing a permanent homeless assistance center. Jon DeCarmine, coordinator for ACCHH, said the gathering was about more than just having breakfast. DeCarmine, a former Alligator managing editor, said that ACCHH has 35 member agencies, including the city of Gainesville. “The last city meeting was a good step toward recognizing that efforts for the homeless must be community-wide and not advocate-driven,” DeCarmine said. “Now the city is stepping up and saying, ‘This is a community problem.'”