A few Gainesville City Council members are encouraging the community to help the city's homeless population, especially during cold weather.
During Tuesday night's meeting, council member George Wangemann asked for a staff update on the services available in Gainesville to help homeless people with shelter, food and employment.
"I was helping to pick up litter last Saturday along the Highway 129 bridge, and my heart went out to a man who was there. We thought he might have been dead because we didn't see any movement for a while," Wangemann said. "I walked up the concrete side of the bridge to check on him, and he raised his head up. Fortunately, he was smiling. He only had a sleeping bag, and I offered him a blanket, but he said he was OK."
Wangemann was especially concerned given the winter storm.
"I was glad to know he was just sleeping, but it was very cold and very windy, and I'm not sure he was properly sheltered from the elements," Wangemann added Wednesday. "I hate to see anybody not having a place to sleep at night. He could also be confronted by other people or animals."
Though Wangemann is aware of several Gainesville organizations, such as Action Ministries, Good News at Noon, the Salvation Army, and My Sister's Place, he wants to see the full picture of churches and community organizations that help.
"That was just one man under one bridge," he said. "I used to do winter camping in Wisconsin, and I'm very understanding of what difficulties that presents to an individual not prepared for the cold and snow."
Community Service Center Director Phillippa Moss will present an overall picture of nearby homeless groups in an upcoming work session, City Manager Kip Padgett said Wednesday.
"She's in touch with a lot of the nonprofit agencies and social services in the area," he said. "The City Council is looking forward to hearing her update."
Help can come in the simplest form, including individuals, council member Myrtle Figueras pointed out Tuesday.
"Queen City bridge is like a small city underneath that bridge, and if you have any kind of human decency, you will see the plight of the homeless in Gainesville," she said. "It's big ... and everybody in Gainesville needs to be aware that everybody could do a little more to help someone else."
The best solution likely sits with churches and community groups, not the government, Wangemann noted.
"I'm not proposing a governmental solution to the problem, but it's a people problem. It's a church problem and a community problem but an opportunity as well," he said. "I know several churches get together to provide a place to stay when it's cold, and they may provide a meal or two. I just wish there was an easy solution."
The long-term solution should also help people find jobs, he said Wednesday.
"I know of a few places that take homeless people to employment services to help find jobs, and that's what a lot of these people need to supply their own needs," Wangemann said. "The ideal is to help people become independent and self-reliant."