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Gainesville code enforcement bans 2 homeless camps
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A homeless man known as Duck to the camp's residents prepares to roll a cigarette Tuesday, Jan. 10, 2023, at a Gainesville camp where about a dozen homeless live. The City of Gainesville has notified the camp residents to be off the City's property by Tuesday. - photo by Scott Rogers

Previous story: Gainesville City code enforcement officials raided two homeless camps Tuesday morning, ordering about 25 homeless people to vacate the camps by early next week. 

Notices to vacate were left at two camps, one behind Tabernaculo de la Paz pentecostal church and another in the Flat Creek area near Davis Street. Two residents at the church camp said a code enforcement officer said they have until Tuesday, Jan. 17, to leave the camp.

The notice reads, “You are on City property. Please vacate the area.” 

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A homeless man walks through a homeless camp in the woods in Gainesville Tuesday, Jan. 10, 2023, back to the tent where he lives. The City of Gainesville has notified the camp residents to be off the City's property by Tuesday. - photo by Scott Rogers

Mike Fisher, street outreach director for Ninth District Opportunity, a nonprofit that serves low-income families, estimated that a total of 25 homeless people live at the two camps. He said he isn’t sure why the camps were raided. Mayor Sam Couvillon said he was traveling Tuesday and was not aware of the issue but would look into it. 

The Times also reached out to City Manager Bryan Lackey and Code Enforcement Manager Jeff Bull but did not hear back. City spokeswoman Christina Santee said over email that she would try to find out more. 

In 2018, the city council unanimously approved a pair of ordinances that banned panhandling and urban camping. But the city also issued a proclamation in November pledging to address homelessness by educating the public and providing more affordable housing. 

Fisher described the camp behind the church as “just short of immaculate” and said it has been around for many years. 

“This camp has been here forever,” said Joe Amerling, founder and president of Overhead Cover, a nonprofit that assists homeless people and provides portable showers. 

Fisher and Amerling said they aren’t sure why the camps are being raided now. 

“We understand everyone here is trespassing, they’re either on public or private property,” Fisher said. “The point is, there are enough places in this county, city, something, where there should be a safe place that we can move people so we’re not playing human whack-a-mole every two and a half three months.”

Amerling said his organization has worked extensively to beautify the church camp by removing truckloads of trash, providing metal burn barrels and putting tarps above the tents that now neatly line the wooded path. The camp also has a stove, a shower tent and makeshift restrooms, one specially built for a resident with muscular dystrophy. 

“We keep it clean here. We keep it quiet,” said Joe “Duck” Mallard, 54, a resident at the church camp for about two months. He emphasized that the camp is drug free and peaceful. 

Edwin Osorio, the pastor at Tabernaculo de la Paz, works with Amerling to assist the homeless people who live behind his church. 

“This is part of our job as a church, to help others,” Osorio said. “We haven’t had any problems with them.”

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Retired Gainesville Police Investigator and Overhead Cover nonprofit founder Joe Amerling visits a homeless camp in Gainesville Tuesday, Jan. 10, 2023,. where he has worked with the residents many times. The City of Gainesville has notified the camp residents to be off the City's property by Tuesday. - photo by Scott Rogers
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Signs in a Gainesville homeless camp are left by City of Gainesville telling the residents to vacate the property by Tuesday. - photo by Scott Rogers
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Signs in a Gainesville homeless camp are left by City of Gainesville telling residents to vacate the city's property by Tuesday. - photo by Scott Rogers