Interviewee: Bob Tancig
Interviewer: Matt Marcus
March 21, 1993
M: My name is Matt Marcus. I am interviewing Bob Tancig. [It is] Sunday
afternoon, March 21, . [We are at] 1806 NW 21 Street.
Bob, what is your date of birth?
T: I was born April 29, 1953.
M: Where were you born?
T: I was born in Camp Stewart, Georgia, which is just outside of Hinesville in South
M: How long did you live there?
T: I moved there when I was still an infant and I lived in Port Washington,
Wisconsin until I was in about the first grade. And then we moved again; my
father was a dentist and he set up practice in West Palm Beach, Florida. I have
basically lived in Florida since then.
M: So you lived in South Florida for most of your [childhood]?
T: I lived in North Palm Beach and then I went to college at the University of Miami,
and then Florida International University. I spent four years in New York City
between 1976 and 1980. In 1981 I returned to Gainesville; I came back here,
where my mother had been living.
M: So was that your first time in Gainesville when you came back in 1981?
T: Well, I had been up here growing up and also visiting my mother; she moved up
here in 1975. So I had been up here before.
M: What did you do in New York when you were up there for the four years?
T: I was going to graduate school; I majored in political science. The last year I was
there I was working in a cabinet shop, doing woodworking and furniture making.
M: How did you end up in a cabinet shop from graduate school?
T: Well I had been doing that kind of work during the summers while I was going to
school. I basically quit school; I did not come out of there with my master's
[degree] or my Ph.D. [So], I just started working full-time. That was my
experience, so I started working in the cabinet shop.
M: What led you to leave New York?
T: That gets into the personal part of the story again. I was going through a divorce
at the time and I was not working up there, [nor] was I going to school. My
mother did live here in Gainesville, so I came back to stay with my family.
M: When you moved here to Gainesville to live with your mother, did you have a job
T: Well, I was working here for a time in a cabinet shop. But again, because of the
divorce, I was also seeing a psychiatrist at the time and I was on some
medications. So really I would almost have been a typical homeless person if I
did not have my mother here to help me; I was living with my mother. For the
first five or six months that I was here, I was working. But after that I quit my job
to find something else, and I did not really find anything else for quite a long time
after that. St. Francis House is really what I got into after coming to Gainesville,
working for a short time in a cabinet shop, and then being unemployed for some
M: So you got here in 1981 and you went through some problems. When did you
end up working at the St. Francis House?
T: As part of that time that I was depressed and going to the psychologist, I started
volunteering at the St. Francis House through my church. I had been going to
my church and through them, had heard about St. Francis House and the soup
kitchen and the shelter. I started working one day a week in each, and [I] just
[began spending] more and more [time there]. Over the years, I became the
night manager. First [I was] the relief for the night manager; when the man that
was working there full time would go away for the weekend or what not, I would
fill in for him. Eventually he left and I took his place. Over the years, from about
1981 until 1987, when I became the executive director, we became a United
M: So all of your activity there was pretty much volunteer stuff?
T: [It was], up until 1987.
M: So you were working somewhere else besides that?
T: No, I was living with my mother. Basically, I would have been a homeless
person if I had not had my mother to stay with. I was not paying her rent and I
was not paying for my food, other than what I could pay for with a small stipend
they gave the night manager at the St. Francis House at the time.
M: So I assume that your mother has a home here in Gainesville?
T: She lives here in Gainesville. She works at Shands Hospital as a nurse.
M: So I assume that you have a very good relationship with your mother? Is it safe
to say [this]?
T: She helped me out then when I needed it. Since then, things have been a little
different. But more recently, we have gotten back together again; we have been
having Christmases and things like that together. I still do not see her with any
regularity, I would say.
M: Do you have any other brothers or sisters?
T: I come from a family of seven. I have three brothers and three sisters.
M: Are any of them local?
T: My sister was living here with my mother at the time; she was still going to high
school. I am the third-oldest, so most of my sisters were younger. I had another
sister who was an X-ray technician through the program at Santa Fe Community
College, and then worked at AGH [Alachua General Hospital]. They are now all
down in Palm Beach County, pretty much. I have an older brother who lives in
Atlanta and another brother who is still out in Bedford, Colorado.
M: So you are the executive director of the St. Francis House now. What does that
entail for you?
T: Basically, I am in charge of all of the day to day operations of the shelter. I
report to the board of directors of course, and they set policies and are
responsible for determining the direction that the program will take. I am
responsible for seeing that those policies and procedures are carried out and
keeping things going day to day on the site, and that we are actually delivering
the services. I supervise the staff of course, and help with the volunteers. I try to
deal with any of the problems that come up, either with the guests or in terms of
the shelter itself. And I keep the place going.
M: How big is the staff that you are in charge of?
T: We have six [people who are] either full or part-time. [There is] myself, a full-
time case manager, a full-time administrative assistant, a full-time night
manager, two relief night managers and a part-time kitchen coordinator.
M: What are the qualifications of some of the people that work there?
T: We have had case managers in the past that have had a lot of experience and
we found that the setting that we have to work in at St. Francis House really does
not attract and keep people with an M.S.W. [a master's degree in social work], or
somebody with a lot of experience. The woman that we have doing it now is a
case manager who has had a lot of practical experience. She does not have a
degree but she is committed to the program; [she] does all she can to help the
people, which is probably more important than whether or not she has a degree.
M: Is there a high turnover rate of the people that volunteer there? Is it only for a
short period of time, or is it people that are mainly pretty committed to it?
T: Among the volunteers, we really have both. We have the people that have been
helping for ten or twelve years now, and then we have other people that kind of
come and stay one time and then we do not see them again. It really depends
on what they are looking for, and their relationship to Gainesville life. A lot of
students that we have had in the past stay here until they have graduated, and of
course they have gone on. But we do have people that come just to try it out
and see what it is like. So there is really quite a mix.
M: Are the people that you help clients of the St. Francis House?
T: We refer to the people staying in the house overnight as guests. In general,
people who get support services and eat lunch would be considered clients.
M: How persistent are they? How often is it the same person staying there, or the
same person coming for lunch? Do you see people that are there maybe once
or twice, or do you see the same people for years on end?
T: We treat the people that come and stay at the shelter differently, [depending on]
whether or not they have been guests in the past. If we have never seen them
before they would come in and be considered a new guest, [and would be] given
three days with possible extensions. If a person has been there in the past, but
has not been there in the past year, we would also consider them a new guest.
But people who have been at the house in the past year are considered on a
one-night-at-a-time basis. Meaning basically, they can come in at 10:00 if we
have room that has not been needed by somebody who has not been there in
the past year. So if we do not have a request from a new guest by 10:00, then
we can let somebody in for that night only. If again the next night the bed still
does not need to go to a new guest, then that person can stay again. But it is
only on a one-night-at-a-time basis.
The people who come and eat at the soup kitchen are a little different. About 27
percent of all our guests have lived in Gainesville for over twenty years. If you go
down to the length of time that they have been in town, about 15 percent have
been in town for a week or less. Almost three-quarters of the people have been
in town for a month or more. They are not exactly transient in the sense that
they are just here and gone in a day or two; we have a lot of people that eat at
the Soup Kitchen that are local, long-time community residents.
M: Is there any generalization about what the nature of their circumstances are?
T: We have run a survey to find out about that. Most of them are just either
unemployed or are employed, but not making enough money. Oftentimes they
will say that if they were out working that day, they would not be there. But if
they cannot get out [to work] for whatever reason, they will come down and eat
at the soup kitchen. The weather may be bad, or they [may be] laid off for the
day, [or] whoever they were working for [may] call and say they do not need
them. But basically, they are guys that try to work whenever they can. If they
cannot get out, then we try to supplement. Then we also have people that are
there pretty regularly; probably 30-40 percent are there more than three or four
times a week.
M: What would you say the racial or gender breakdown of that crowd is?
T: It is probably about two-thirds black at the soup kitchen. They are probably 80-
90 percent single men. We do have women and children, and some people
there with families. But during the school year, the older kids are usually in
school and are getting fed there. If they do have children, women are eligible for
AFDC [Aid to Families with Dependent Children]. Once they are in a home, they
can get food stamps pretty regularly. We really see that most of the people that
we serve at lunchtime are men.
M: Are they working-age men?
T: Again, there are other programs Social Security and whatnot available for
older people. There are other programs available for children; if they are still
with the family they can be getting AFDC and food stamps, and those kinds of
things. Single men are also eligible for food stamps, but we find that a lot of
them do not go through the trouble to do that because they would not be getting
enough, or because they do not have a stable residence. They do not have a
way to store the food and prepare it. So we are finding that both the elderly
people and the women and children seem to be able to take care of themselves
using other government assistance. But it is the single men that appear to be
coming to get emergency services from St. Francis House.
M: You say that most of these men are borderline homeless and do not have a
stable residence? What do you mean by that?
T: If they do have any place to stay it might be here today, gone tomorrow. It might
be that they are just camping out in an abandoned house or something, or that
the house they are in is a rooming house where they do not have access to a
kitchen where they could really store their food. Or they may be living in a house
that does not have adequate plumbing and electricity to support a kitchen, or the
appliances that they would need to prepare food.
M: Do you have a pretty consistent number of people that show up every day? Or
does it vary?
T: It varies according to the day of the month that you are dealing with. The first
week or two of the month, people receive their Social Security checks and their
food stamps, their V.A. checks, and all of those kinds of things. The people that
are supported with government assistance usually get those checks within the
first five or ten days of the month. We see that as those benefits run out, as they
use up their money or use up their food stamps, the number [of guests] starts to
increase again towards the middle of the month. At the end of the month, the
numbers can be almost 30-40 percent more than they were at the start of the
month. So if we started the month with seventy or eighty people eating lunch,
we end up with almost 140 at the end of the month.
M: So that provides some logistical problems. Do you count on that? Say that in
the first week of April [you say] that you are only going to have thirty people
there, and then you have maybe sixty show up?
T: The experience we have had over the last decade or so, we have a pretty good
idea of how many to expect. Even today for instance, which is Sunday, we
prepared about 126 [meals] thinking that would be enough. Yesterday we had
108 signed in so we knew that being the 21 st, it is getting near the end of the
month and we were ready to prepare more than [the] normal [amount]. We
thought that we might get about 120 or 125 [guests], and there were more like
145 today. So we always try to prepare more than we expect, so that if we are
wrong we will be able to give everybody something. On those days when we
make more than we need or fewer people come than we expected, then we have
that food to give out as seconds. So after we give out everybody the one meal of
a bag of sandwiches and doughnuts and then maybe a cup of fruit salad or a
garden salad, along with that comes a cup of hot soup. But if we have gone
through the line once and everybody has got something, then whatever food we
have left we just give out as seconds. Again, because we were a little short
today we did not really have anything to give out as seconds. We had to give the
last couple of people [going] through line the first time, what we would normally
give out as seconds.
M: Where do you get the food that you give them? Is it food that is given to the St.
Francis House? Where does it come from? You say you have soups and
T: Well, today for instance, we used some canned food that we got from the Job
Force Service, or the Job Corps Center. It was basically given to them and
passed on to us as surplus from Operation Desert Storm. So in the past we got
some of the other meals ready-to-eat and some of the other supplies that the
government had on surplus because they did not need it for the war. We get
USDA commodities, which is another government program allowing the federal
government in their price-support programs to buy up the food to keep the prices
higher. [They] are then able to pass that along to non-profit [organizations] and
other agencies dealing with food. For instance, with the same kind of a program
providing food to the public schools, they also have a program for soup kitchens
and food banks. So we get some of that USDA food.
But other than the federal government, we also have a group in town called
Gainesville Harvest. They go and organize volunteers to solicit restaurants and
to have teams of volunteers who go and pick up the leftover food every day.
[This is food] that has been prepared and would otherwise have been thrown
away. They bring it to the different food service operations that give food away
to hungry people. So St. Francis House gets all of the leftover hamburgers from
McDonald's restaurants in Gainesville. We get a lot of the leftover deli and
bakery and produce products from the Publix supermarkets in town. We get
some of the leftover food from other restaurants. Tony and Pat's, for instance,
gives us pizza and soup that they would have leftover. So we get a lot of leftover
food. The doughnut shop in town, Dunkin Doughnuts now, [it] used to be Mr.
Doughnuts, we get doughnuts from them. We have been [getting them] every
day for the last ten or fifteen years.
So, a lot of the food comes to us even as individual donations from people that
have things leftover. For instance, a church dropped off a lot of cabbage that
they had this morning. We buy some things, but most of what we are buying are
the paper products the cups and the lids and the bags and the spoons that
we package all of this food in. Right now the cost of our meal for food is less
than ten cents per meal. That is really because so much of the food that we are
offering is given to us in one of these programs where they have the surplus food
and they want to give it out to people who are hungry.
M: Is there any sort of requirement for people when they come in to get food? The
same person could come in every day [is it] a no-questions-asked policy?
T: That is true; we have some people that are restricted from the property for other
reasons, [such as] if they come and they have been fighting. To get into the
house it is a little bit different; they are required to have a police clearance and
they cannot be drinking. They have to follow certain rules and regulations of the
house. The need that we are serving there [with an] overnight shelter, is
something that you need every night. The same thing [occurs] with the food; if
you get help today you still need to get help the next day. So what we do with
the food program is really pretty much just let people come in. If they sign the
register, we give them a ticket. They come around to the serving window and
they get fed. We do it one time a day, but we do it seven days a week. The
Salvation Army will provide an evening meal to people. So the different agencies
in town can hopefully take care of the food needs for anybody in the area.
M: You have already said that the population of people that are in need of help--do
you have any idea what it is in Gainesville, coming through on a monthly basis?
T: Just to put it into perspective, there is a Harvard physician's task force study that
dealt with hunger in America back in 1986 or 1987. They determined that
Alachua County was the ninety-seventh hungriest county in the United States.
You might wonder how they arrived at that number. What they did was to take
the percentage of the population living below the poverty level and compare that
to the rate of people eligible for food stamps who are actually receiving them. So
they could tell from that number. When they factored the two numbers together
they could tell what the degree of poverty was in the area and how well the
government program set up to provide food to poor people was working. What
they found was that we did have a high level of poverty in this county as
compared to other counties, and that we also had a low rate of participation in
the food stamp program as compared to other counties. So that put us near the
M: Has that improved?
T: Well, since then the county commission has encouraged and has actually
financially supported the creation of a food bank here in town, that would help
the agencies delivering food to the hungry people have a place to go to get the
materials and the stocks that they need to hand out. Gainesville Harvest has
come on since then. So there has been an effort to address that. Hopefully,
things are better than they were back in 1986.
M: How do you think or do you know [how] Alachua County rates in relation to
the rest of the state as a whole?
T: Well, if you look at the county in its rankings in the state, in terms of per capital
income and the percentage of the population below the poverty level, we are still
on the lower end of those scales. In terms of the different social services
available in the county, I do not know that they really have been rated that way
across the state. But I do think that if there is any person in Alachua County who
is hungry today, there are places where they could go and get hooked up at
different agencies so that they would not need to be hungry again tomorrow. In
terms of emergency shelter, I am not sure that I could say that if there is anybody
in need, they could go and find help at an agency somewhere in Alachua
County. Using numbers that are derived from a formula developed by HUD
[Department of Housing and Urban Development] and some university studies,
we could expect to find about 300 homeless people in Alachua County on any
given night, based on just the population of the county as a whole. I can assure
you that there are not 300 shelter beds available on any given night. St. Francis
House and the Salvation Army together two general population shelters can
provide about a tenth of that.
And then you have other shelters that are there for abused women, which would
be SPARC [Sexual and Physical Abuse Resource Center]. [There are shelters
for] youth, [the] children under eighteen that are homeless. That would be
Interface. Then you have alcohol and detoxification programs, such as Bridge
House, that could help put people up if they have a particular medical problem.
But I do not think we come up to even fifty percent of that possible need on any
given night with all of the shelter beds put together. So there are people out
there that are finding the need to sleep outdoors and on the plaza and in the
abandoned houses. They have [also] doubled up with friends if they can find
some to put them up. So even though a hungry person could probably find food
to eat, I am not so sure that a homeless person would be able to find a roof over
their head for every given night.
M: When you talked about these programs and shelters you were talking about
Alachua County, but it seems like you are only talking about Gainesville. Should
I infer that a homeless person in High Springs or Starke legitimately congregates
to Gainesville as the hub?
T: Well, there are some shelters in other rural counties, and there are food
distribution sites throughout the county. But other than some particular shelters
that are set up for abused women for instance, or ladies getting out of prison,
most of the shelter facilities in Alachua County are in the city of Gainesville. That
is true. But whether or not a homeless person out in a rural area could find
somebody out there to put them up, or someplace to stay in some kind of an
out building or something--I do not know. Normally what happens is that a
homeless person in a rural area would need a whole range of services, from
helping to find work or medical attention or job training or other services that
H.R.S. [Health and Rehabilitative Services] has to offer. They would come to a
larger city in order to try and find those services. At the same time, they would
be more accessible to shelters.
M: Have you found that there is a lack of toleration for the activities at the St.
Francis House? In addition to that, in the wake of all of the crime and the fact
that there are so many prisons around Gainesville, has there been sort of a
conservative backlash in light of student murders and stuff like that?
T: Well, all of those things come up of course. We are in the process of trying to
expand our facilities. Where we run up against that is primarily in public hearings
dealing with whether or not we should be issued a special use permit to operate
our program on a particular piece of property. Generally speaking, St. Francis
House has been operating in Gainesville, Alachua County, for about twelve or
thirteen years now. And as any other non-profit in town can tell you, it is
impossible to operate as a non-profit, charitable organization without a
substantial amount of support from the community. Certainly, we have the
volunteers that we need; when we ask for help people are willing to give their
time and actually come down and deliver these services. People are not too
afraid to come and be there on site and deal with the people all of the time. We
have got plenty of people that are supporting us financially and with in-kind
donations; for instance, [we receive] all of the food that we talked about. So we
do have people who are supporting the mission.
The objectives of our program is to try to provide emergency services to people
in these situations. But, as I said, what gives us more trouble is when we are
before a public body and some particular people get up and explain to the
commissioners and to the people on the boards some particular events that have
happened that they relate to St. Francis House. We can respond [in] several
ways: (1), we try to show them that not every problem in town is a direct result of
St. Francis House. The people that work at St. Francis House, or certainly many
poor people who are not criminals, and there are many, many criminals who are
not poor people, and not coming to get the services at St. Francis. People who
are criminals, I think, probably make a pretty good living off of their criminal
activity and they are not out selling drugs. For instance, we had one man get up
and say that 90 percent of the people eating at the soup kitchen were drug
dealers. [Laughter] My estimation is that drug dealers are doing pretty well in
their activities and probably do not need to come and get a free leftover
doughnut or hamburger to eat for lunch when they have got maybe hundreds of
dollars in their pocket. So I find it a little hard to believe myself. I am sure that
there are some petty criminals around and there are some people who get
themselves into trouble, but I think that really happens in all ranges of society
and not just among homeless people.
Certainly St. Francis House is a public facility, so we serve anybody who walks
up; we are not in a position of trying to do police checks on everybody. We are
required to ask for a police clearance for our guests in the evening that shows
there are no outstanding warrants on the person. But in terms of saying that
none of our guests have ever gotten themselves into trouble, I think is something
that no public agency could ever try to claim.
M: I wanted to ask about the police checks; to me, that seems to be a deterrent to a
lot of people, which gets into another issue of the stereotypes of the people who
are in need of help. Maybe a lot of us, or some people are afraid of the police
and wary of the police, especially if you have been living on the streets or in
marginal [means] and you would really be dissuaded from going to the police
T: We were doing police clearances before the city did make it an ordinance. We
thought that it was probably a good idea; it protects the community [in] that we
know we are really not providing a haven for fugitives to just come into
Gainesville and hide out from the police. It protects our staff people and our
other guests so that we really do not have violent or dangerous people trying to
live in there amongst us in the evening and try and spend the night with them,
and all of that kind of thing. Of course if there are people that are wanted by the
police, we do feel that they provide jails and prisons for those sorts of people.
They do not need to be staying in an emergency shelter [where they are] really
being put up by the generosity of the local community as a charitable effort. So if
the police come in looking for a particular person, we cooperate with them in
trying to find [that person]; we are not trying to harbor any criminals and we are
not trying to support any kind of criminal lifestyle.
I think it is true that if a person knows that they have to get a police clearance,
that they will it is a hard and fast rule now at St. Francis House [that] if you are
going to stay overnight, you need to go to the police station and basically just
check in with them and tell them who you are, and that you are in town, and that
you are going to be staying at the shelter. If they do that, people who are wanted
and know that they do not want to have contact with the police, will avoid the
shelter. Being that all of the shelters in town require the same thing, they will
most likely just leave town.
M: I was thinking more along the lines of the average guy who might have an
outstanding warrant for disorderly conduct, or something of that nature, which
might still be a deterrent to them, but I see your point.
T: If anybody is there who has gotten into trouble with the law in the past and has
not resolved it, [they cannot stay]. Certainly, there are people who stay in the
house who have had problems with the police and have gone to jail, and have
gotten out of jail, and their responsibilities to the criminal justice system have
basically been served and they are no longer actively pursued by the police.
They would certainly be able to stay at St. Francis House. But what we are
talking about with the police check is that, people that the police are actively
looking for would not be able to come and stay at the house and avoid arrest by
being in the house and not out on the street.
M: Does the St. Francis House provide any sort of legal services or assistance?
Say if I or someone needed to get to court because they had to have a court
T: Well, we help with clothing if we can, so that they can at least be dressed
properly. We help with referrals through Three Rivers Legal Services, for
We have had one case in the past that was probably a little unusual. We had a
situation where a woman came with several of her little children. It came to our
knowledge that a judge back where she came from had issued a warrant for her
arrest because of something that she had interfered with [in] the custody of her
children. Coming to find out the whole story behind it, it seemed that maybe it
was an unjust thing, and we really did not think that she was somebody that
needed to be arrested. So we did call in some legal help that we had and they
were able to look into the matter. They actually got the arrest warrant
postponed. But eventually, they unfortunately did come and serve the warrant
on her. She had heard that they were coming. By that time it was several
months later and she had been staying in a house in public housing. She pretty
much just up and left so nobody knows where she is now, [and] nobody knows
where the kids are. It just seemed like a very unfortunate set of circumstances.
We did try to get her some legal help at that time, but I guess it was not enough
to keep her from running again.
M: To make a difference? Do you find that a lot? A sort of situation where
someone, or the homeless, or people of that nature seem to be persecuted more
by the law because they have this stereotype of being part of the criminal class,
and that sort of thing?
T: Well, I think certainly, if they are in the park and they are basically minding their
own business, they might get questioned a lot more. If they are on the street,
they really have no place to go to get out of the public eye. So they are often
there, and I guess they make some of their own trouble. But maybe sometimes
they are there in the wrong place at the wrong time, too. I would not say that the
Gainesville Police Department goes out of their way to harass homeless people;
I think they are very professional in the way that they carry out their
responsibilities. But the fact that the person is out on the street all of the time
kind of lends themselves to that kind of abuse.
M: You seem to speak pretty highly of the Gainesville Police Department. Do you
think they do a pretty good job and cooperate well?
T: I think they do; whenever we need their help they certainly come and help us. I
have seen them many times try to help people who needed our services.
They are helpful in getting them over to us. We have had to call the police
because somebody was disorderly, or something. They were very professional
in the way that they handled the situation. I thought they handled themselves
very well given some of the abuse that was given to them by the person that we
were calling them about. So actually, I have never seen a Gainesville police
[officer] or a sheriff's officer for that matter act out of line.
M: When you talk about disorderly situations are they alcohol related?
T: Usually it is because they are drunk; we do not allow anybody in the house if
they are drunk. But we also have situations where people have come and
caused trouble in the past and we have asked them to stay away and they come
back again. You [then] have to enforce a no trespassing warning on them, or
something. But normally it is because they are there, and are just carrying on;
they are drunk and have been drinking too much.
M: Do you find that a lot of people are in the situation that they are in because of
family situations or mental illness? Is there any sort of breakdown or study that
you have done on that?
T: Well, there is a lot of material where people in surveys try to make sense of
exactly what is happening. Are there more, or are there fewer? Is this a new
problem, or if it is new, what has been happening lately? I guess a lot of what
they see is that there are mentally ill people out there certainly. Numbers as
high as 30 or 40 percent of the homeless are classified as mentally ill. A lot of
them are substance abusers. Some numbers go even higher than that as the
numbers of people who are homeless because of alcohol or drug abuse. But
then you also do have many people who are there because they cannot afford
the cost of housing today. Affordable housing is certainly an issue. Maybe [it is]
not so much that there is not the housing available to them if they have the
money, but they do not have the resources needed to move into the housing that
is there and that is vacant for them. And so it is a matter of "Why do they not
have the resources?" It could be that they have low job skills or they cannot find
work. Although there are some people out there who are skilled and cannot find
the work. The jobs have to be there, but our guests also need to have the skills
to be able to go out and get a good job like that. If they are working less than full
time every week in a minimum wage job, then even though they are working,
they are not going to have enough money to rent themselves a place and meet
all of their other expenses.
M: I realize that the job problems are significant, and that can be remedied--I
guess--to some degree, but what about people who are mentally ill? Is there
anything that you all do specifically?
T: We would try to refer them to mental health services, but a lot of the people have
been through the mental health system before and maybe there is not a whole
lot that anybody can really do for them. Some of these mental illnesses are
chronic and they may be genetic. There are not real solutions; you cannot just
give them a certain medication or assign them a special therapy treatment or
something and expect to have full recovery. There are a lot of people that will
probably be very sick for a long time especially among the mentally ill. The
matter is just how best to take care of them. Certainly, living out on the street all
alone without a place to live, is not a solution. On the other hand, given the laws
as they are today, you cannot just take somebody off of the street, call them
mentally ill, and commit them involuntarily to a mental institution of some sort.
So it is a problem that is going to be with us for some time.
M: It seems that you say alcoholism and drug abuse is part of the problem, [along
with] mental illness; I think they are closely connected. It seems that there
certainly should be some sort of a better way to deal with it. At times, it must be
really frustrating for you to see.
T: Yes [it is], especially with the mentally ill people. You know that they are not
making wise decisions; they may not have the support system to really have
anything better. But if a person is mentally ill, then at least they would qualify for
a Social Security disability income and they would have some money. [Also],
they were probably eligible for some kind of public housing as a disabled person.
So [it is] if the person was competent enough to manage their money. Even if
they are not, the Social Security has provisions for payees so that if somebody
agrees to take responsibility for them and their money, they would still be getting
the benefits in their name, but [the benefits would be] managed through a friend
or somebody who would be willing to do that for them.
So then, normally for a mentally ill person, the question of income should not be
the problem. What normally happens though, is that mentally ill people cannot
function in a normal setting. So you could just say "Well, we will just get them an
apartment in a subsidized housing project somewhere because their mental
illness prevents them from behaving normally, and from being able to cooperate
and get along with other people around them." Sometimes the mental illness
itself prevents them from being indoors and having the same routines. For
instance, if somebody is severely paranoid, they will be afraid to go home; they
will be afraid to go back to their place or stay in one place very long. So
especially among the mentally-ill homeless, there is a real problem as to how
come to any long-term solution.
M: Do you do anything is there any sort of assistantship that you would help them
fill out? An SSI form, or enable them to get on the right track that you were just
T: Well, part of our case management services is to make them aware of what
benefits they are eligible for. If they are getting them, then we help them to
continue getting them by providing a place to receive mail. We would help them
contact the Social Security office to try and make sure that their benefits are
uninterrupted. If they are eligible for something that they are not presently
enrolled in, then we would do all that we can to help them complete the
paperwork and make their appointments and make their interviews with the
Social Security department, and that kind of thing. But that is a very long
process; it could take up to six months before you get a determination back on
your disability or before your checks start coming. We have had people that we
have tried to keep at the house until their checks did start being delivered to
them. If we are able to, we keep them as long as we can. But sometimes, it is a
very long process. Again, they may be leaving or sent to some other location
when all of that is finally resolved.
M: How would you keep them at the house for that long in light of the policy?
T: The policy basically is that, as long as they are making any kind of progress, we
can extend the number of days they have. We let a new person in for three days
with possible extensions every three days after that. If the person is in fact
disabled for whatever reason and cannot work, then we would not be expecting
them to go out and find a job and start working all of a sudden. We would think
that the way to solve that particular problem would be to get them into their
Social Security benefits and whatnot; to get them [benefits] coming. Our job
would be to start that and to hopefully be able to keep them there until it does
One of the people who stayed at the house longer than anyone else, was a man
who was there for almost 300 days because he was in the middle of this
process. Just when he had it all resolved and the determination was made that
he was eligible, they just happened to randomly select his file to do an audit and
to see if everything was done properly. That took another extra month or two
before he actually started receiving the benefits. So it can be a lengthy process
and it does mean that the person needs to be in contact in with the Social
Security office. [They need to be] in one place long enough to have all of this
M: After an example like that do you ever follow up [on these guests]? Do you ever
find out any situations where a person you know, as a result of being helped out,
gets on their feet again and becomes a stable person?
T: Well, there are several people. That one man in particular that was staying there
almost 300 days, we know where he is living, and we still have contact with him.
But a little more normal situation would be that the person would come and stay
with us and we would try to help them out as much as we can. Eventually, they
would leave and we would lose contact with them. Now, we do have people that
do come back after being away for a while. There are people that have settled
down in Gainesville and are living in places where we know where they are and
we do keep in contact with them.
M: Do you find that most of the people that come to St. Francis House are originally
from Florida or the Alachua County area? Or do you find a lot of people coming
from the Northeast to come down to a warmer climate?
T: Well, we do not see as much of a seasonal fluctuation as you might expect.
Especially [with] the soup kitchen numbers they follow the same trend as I was
discussing earlier. [They have] more monthly cycles than seasonal. The same
thing [occurs] at the shelter. The difference, of course, is that when it gets very
cold, people that are able to survive outdoors are often asking for shelter
because of the coldness of the night. So there may not be more homeless
people that night, but there would be more homeless people asking for shelter
because of the severe weather.
M: What about last week with that big storm? That did it?
T: Normally we have a list of maybe three or four new people that we had not seen
before, asking for shelter. We had a list of almost fourteen or fifteen on that
night that it got so cold. Those are all people who we had not seen in the past
year. Again, I think there are probably many people out there that could benefit
from a homeless shelter but feel [they] are able to survive on their own without
imposing on anybody or without having to actually go and ask for help at an
emergency shelter. We find that when it gets very cold like it did, [they] are really
just forced--almost for survival--to get in out of the weather somewhere. So they
come in and ask us for help then.
M: So you feel as if there is a sufficient amount of shelter for people that really want
it in general, except in emergency situations?
T: At the same time that I will tell you that, we certainly had to turn those people
away on the cold nights. But all during the year we are turning people away.
[End side A1]
T: At the same time that we are able to serve five, six, or seven hundred different
people a year, we are having to turn away almost that many people every year
as well. So we really need to double the number of beds we have in our shelter,
even to meet the demand for people we have never seen before. But then we
also feel that it would be better to be able to let people stay a little longer too, so
they can get some of these problems resolved a little more completely before
they are out on their own again.
Certainly the fact that a person does not have a place to stay is a problem, but
we are finding that it really is not the only problem or maybe even the root
problem of their homelessness. But in fact, the reasons that they are homeless
need to be resolved before you can get them back into a house, or they will just
end up homeless again. If it is a problem with substance abuse, or if it is a
problem with mental illness, the fact that you put them into a house does not
guarantee that will solve the rest of their problems; you have to work out all of
these other things at the same time. And so it is important that a person in that
situation is in a supportive environment with people that are monitoring them a
little bit and finding out what they are doing, [and] if they are staying on their
program, and all of that kind of thing. So we think that certainly to be able to
have more beds and to be able to extend the average stay a little bit would
probably be a very good thing.
M: So are there definite plans to expand the facility?
T: We are trying to expand from fifteen to thirty [beds]; we have been now [for] the
last several years. We hoped that those plans are moving forward and we will
soon be able to break ground on a facility downtown.
M: I remember you were discussing that; part of that was a zoning problem?
T: An emergency shelter is required to get a special use permit before we can
operate a program like that. The way the zoning laws work is that some uses are
allowed by right in certain areas of town, as long as you are in an area zoned for
that kind of activity. You can buy a piece of property and open shop, and that is
all you really have to do, make sure you are in the right area zoned for that use.
An emergency shelter on the other hand, is allowed by special use permit only.
That means that first we have to find a part of town that is zoned for emergency
shelters, and even then we have to go and get specific permission to run a
particular program on a particular piece of property. That is considered a special
use permit. So it is in our efforts to try and get this special use permit that we run
into some problems.
M: What is the process that you go about to get this special use permit?
T: First, you apply for a building permit or for an occupancy. You are required a
special use permit by the building department; you do not just assume that. You
apply without one and then they tell you that you do need one, so they then put
you on the agenda to get one of these things. You fill out an application and you
go before the Plan Board. Basically, there are about ten or eleven different
standards which they measure you by. [They measure you on] if you can comply
with all of those things; for instance, if you can show how you are going to
address your impact on the surrounding neighbors, and that kind of thing. [Or
they measure you on] if you [can] show that you are compatible and harmonious.
Basically, the burden of proof is on us; we go in and say, "Yeah, we can operate
this without a negative impact on the surrounding neighborhoods." If the Plan
Board determines that after their own analysis, then they issue a special use
permit that allows you to operate there.
M: Who is the Planning Board? Is it an elected committee, or is it appointed by the
T: It is a group that is appointed by the City Commission. I believe there are seven
people on it now.
M: For example, would I be able to go in and talk to the board saying, "I am Joe
Businessman down there, and I do not want this guy . ."
T: When it is put on the agenda for the meeting, the planning department will send
out notices to any property owners within 400 feet. Any of those people are
notified personally in the mail. But other than that, they also have a public
announcement or notice in the newspaper ten days before the meeting, so that
anybody who wants to come and has an opinion on it can come. On the night of
the meeting of course, it is a public hearing. First they will have the people
applying for the permit [speak] and then they will have people who want to speak
against it. It will go back and forth. In our case, it went on for hours and hours.
[It went] back and forth until it was finally resolved; the Plan Board did give us the
permit. There was a provision in there also that anybody who objects to that
decision can appeal it to the Board of Adjustment. The Board of Adjustment
heard the case and also upheld our permit. The person then still has the
opportunity to go to circuit court and file a suit, an injunction; they sue the city not
to issue the permit. Basically, I guess once the court rules, that is the way it is
going to be.
M: So that is where it is right now?
T: It went through all of that until finally the lawsuit was dropped. The Board of
Adjustment heard the appeal and ruled in our favor again. So that was the end
of the line as far as our opponents went. First the Plan Board upheld it, and then
the Board of Adjustment upheld it as well. So we ended up with a permit.
M: So now all that you have to do is get the funding to build it?
T: Right, now it is a matter of designing and funding the building and going for a
M: So what was the argument that they were using to try and prevent the permit?
T: Basically, the Plan Board has to determine that the use is compatible with the
surrounding neighborhood; that it will not put an undue negative influence on
their operations, [and that] we can operate together harmoniously. What the
opposition was saying basically is that we were attracting people to the
neighborhood who would not ordinarily be there. [And they were saying] that the
people we were attracting and the services we were offering resulted in an
unpleasantness in the neighborhood that worked against the downtown
redevelopment efforts that the city was [also] supporting. Basically, it was their
opinion (some of the downtown business people) that having an emergency
shelter close to their downtown businesses would basically put them out of
business; it would cut into their profits and discourage people or customers from
coming downtown. [They felt] it was just something that the city should not allow
on that particular piece of property. They thought that an emergency shelter is
something important, that it was a valuable community resource, but that it
should be located in another neighborhood away from them so that these
negative consequences that fell on them as business people in the
neighborhood would maybe not occur maybe in some other area where there
were not businesses nearby. It was basically [that they wanted it] anywhere, but
M: Is that the common approach that you find? People are supportive of St. Francis
House and the services it provides, but are really not interested in being near it?
T: It gets into this whole NIMBY thing that you have probably heard about: this "Not
in my backyard" phenomenon. [They are] trying to locate these LULUs (locally
undesirable land uses). So we are a LULU that they are trying to site, that the
NIMBYs came out to oppose. One good example of this and it could not be any
clearer, is that they support the facility but they do not support the location of it.
It occurred during this battle when we were trying to find a compromise site. We
were trying to get proper zoning on a piece of property that was not too far from
where we are now. One of the new neighbors that had not objected to us in the
past said, "Well now, it would be a problem across the street from me." But at
the end of the meeting [he] came up to me and said, "Gee, if I had some leftover
bread, could you use it?" So at the same time that he was trying to support our
efforts by providing us with the materials that we need to help people who come
to us for help, he was saying, "If you had these same people near my property, it
would put me out of business." Basically he was saying that he does not think
there is anything wrong with [the homeless], but the customers he serves would
choose to go somewhere else rather than have to be confronted by them on the
street on the way into a business.
A lot of what is happening here is that they are afraid of what might happen. You
tell them, "But we have been around the corner for the last ten years and you
have not seen any of this happen." They will say, "Well, maybe not but if you are
across the street from me it will start happening." So you tell them, "No it really
won't; that is just a perception you have." [And at] the same time we have been
downtown when the business people are now opposing us by saying we are
going to ruin the property values, and [that] the property values will decline
because there is a shelter in the neighborhood. They ignore the fact that, since
we have been there in the last ten years, the property values downtown have
tripled. The same neighborhood that they are saying is going to decline if we
have a shelter there, even though we have had the shelter there for the last ten
years, will be increased three times. They are afraid of things that are going to
happen, that have not happened yet.
M: So you are in the position that it will not make a difference if it is there or not?
T: Not only do we say it will not make it any worse, we are thinking that it makes it
better by having it there. We provide a place where homeless people can go
and get cleaned up so that they do not smell, where they can change their
clothes and wear clean clothes so that they do not look as bad as they would
otherwise. It is a place where they can sleep indoors off the street at night so
that they are not sleeping in the park or in front of their businesses. It is a place
where homeless people can go and get something to eat instead of begging on
the street for food. We are a resource for the downtown neighborhood and we
have not gotten all of them to believe that yet. I think some people downtown do
appreciate us and do in fact offer us assistance and try to help us achieve our
goals (even the one man that was opposing us). While there are other people -
maybe neighbors who just feel that it would be better if we were not around at
So there is a mixed feeling downtown. It is not that everybody feels that the
shelter ought to go away; there are people downtown that see the value of it, we
just have not convinced everybody yet. Some of our vocal opponents are among
those that we have not convinced yet.
M: Have you made any attempt to provide some sort of an educational forum--to lay
out the statistics that you just sort of [described] to me?
T: Yes, we do. One of the other sites that we had a chance to go to called a
neighborhood meeting. We basically said, "Yes, we would like to come and
discuss this with you." We did, and we presented all of our facts and figures.
They told us how they felt and eventually one of the neighbors just got up and
said, "Look, we just do not want you here; you are not going to convince us that
the things that we think are going to happen won't happen." When other
neighborhoods came before the City Commission and said "No, we do not want
them in our neighborhood," the City Commission voted not to force them into
their neighborhoods. The man was saying to us, "We are going to say no just
like they say no; the City Commission respected their voices, now they have to
Basically, it came down to a racial issue. It was a white, middle class
neighborhood that said "No." The City Commission said, "Well OK, then we
won't put them there." They were saying "Now, this is a black neighborhood
telling you no. The City Commission damn well better listen to us the same way
they listen to the neighborhoods of the northwest." We pretty much backed off of
that site, not because we did not think we would have the votes on the City
Commission but just because of all of the racial overtones and the East against
the West, and all of those kinds of things. So we thought that in the long run, it
would be better if we did not push that site.
M: So the second neighborhood you were talking about was the black
T: The first neighborhood we went to was in the northwest and they came out and
opposed it. The City Commission said "Well OK, we don't think it is a good idea
to put it there." Another site that we came up with after that was a site in the
Southeast. The people in the southeast came out. Again, we showed them that
most of the people who eat at the soup kitchen live in the southeast. Whenever
they came up with a complaint or a concern that they had about the future
locations for their neighborhood, we responded with what we think were good
arguments. We were certainly honest and forthright with them; we did not try to
deceive them in any way. We thought that we were basically responding to their
concerns. I do not know if any of them were convinced at all. We did not really
ever see much success in turning around any thinking, but we were faced with
this attitude of "Well, that is all well and good but you are not going to change our
minds. We do not want it; we just do not want you over here."
M: Did they have the attitude that, since the white northwest neighborhood was
refusing to take the area, that they were [also] not going to be [unwilling
T: One of their concerns is that we were being dumped into their neighborhood.
Again, that is one of the reasons we showed [them]: "No, this is a good location.
We are not being forced over here; we want to be here." Forty percent of our
people that eat lunch which is again, another big concern are all from the
southeast. It makes sense that we should be located close to where they live so
that they have easier access to it. One of the concerns from the northwest was
"Well, you are going to be bringing people up here that would not normally be in
the neighborhood anyway." That is probably a legitimate concern; you should
not be located where you have to bring a lot of people from other neighborhoods
up to see you, just to go back to their own neighborhoods when they are done
eating lunch. We said "OK, we will find a place where the people live." We
showed them that a large number of the people [that] we are serving are already
from their neighborhood. It is not that we are going to change the character of
the neighborhood by bringing people in there if the people already live there. But
they said no, they did not want it on the southeast. They said that "the southeast
had more than their share of public housing and social service agencies than the
rest of the city has." They wanted not another example of a charity, and
somebody the helps out for people that have run into problems. They wanted an
example of an industry or business that showed people how you can be
successful and not need this kind of help. So they were opposed to us on a lot
of different grounds.
M: Where was the forum for voicing their opinion? Was this at the permit meetings?
T: We had City Commission meetings, Plan Board meetings, and neighborhood
meetings where we met over there in their neighborhoods where they lived. We
talked on the telephone, and wrote letters to the editor.
M: So the whole thing sounds like a pretty lengthy process that it has gone through.
T: Well, we were starting that back in 1987 or 1988. We just now, in October 1992,
got a final site plan approval. So it was five years.
M: And that is downtown?
T: Yes, and as it turns out, the site that we finally did get our final site plan approval
for is the current site that we are on now. We were even having opposition to
continuing and expanding to some extent expanding the number of beds from
fifteen to thirty. But we would not be expanding the number of people we would
be serving lunch [to]. So we were not even really expanding our operation at the
current site, and people that were located near the current site were opposing
any change in our operation. [These were] changes that we felt would address
some of their concerns. Litter we would not be serving in any throw-away
containers if we were serving indoors. So we would have taken care of that just
by having the facility. We would have been serving indoors so that they would
not be outside and roaming all around the neighborhood with food and
everything. We would be able to provide our showers and bathroom facilities so
that they would not be dirty and smelly and going to the bathroom every which
way. We would be providing more beds, but that would be more people sleeping
indoors instead of out on their doorsteps that they were concerned about. So we
really felt that a lot of the problems that they raised really could have been
addressed by having a new facility.
M: Now that it has been resolved, so to speak, have people resigned to the fact of
accepting it, or is there still latent anger and opposition?
T: I am sure that our basic opposition is not going to be convinced or swayed. But I
have heard that there are other businesses downtown that have said, "Well, we
are going to have it downtown so let's just make the best of it." As we have said
all along, we have tried to respond to any of their concerns. For instance, in the
design of the building we have got the entrance and the gathering area in the
back of the building so that the people will not be visible from the street. We
tried to locate the entranceway so that it is far around the corner on South Main
Street, so there would not be any attraction to cutting through all of the people's
property which has been described to us as a problem.
So we are trying to be good neighbors as well with the downtown people. If they
have a concern we respond the best that we can. I think we have made some
significant efforts to respond, and have taken care of some problems. To say
nothing of the fact that our whole presence there is a response to a problem they
would be dealing with otherwise. We are trying to be concerned for the problems
that they may be feeling and we still want to try it and respond in any way that we
can. We think that we are making progress in that area.
M: As far as this full extension is concerned and beyond that, how is it funded?
There is a full-time staff that works there, and this expanded, new building.
T: The biggest single source comes from the state of Florida through H.R.S. [Health
and Rehabilitative Services]. We get a grant-in-aid to provide services to
homeless people. We are also a United Way agency so the community in that
effort supports the efforts of St. Francis House to a large extent. Probably about
20 percent of our total budget this year was supported by the United Way
allocation. Then we also get some federal money through the community
development block-grant program that we think is appropriate. That is about 10
or 15 percent of our budget and we think it is appropriate because we feel that
about 15 percent of our clients are from out of the community. It is appropriate
that federal money comes to us from Washington to try and address some of the
needs of those people who have not been long-time community residents. The
other single biggest source is from our private contributions from churches and
individuals and clubs, and those kinds of things.
M: What is your annual operating budget?
T: It is about $160,000 right now. It will be going up some with the new building,
but we think [it will be] right around $180,000 or $190,000 a year for our salaries
and the operation of the house. Again, with that money we are able to provide
over 5,200 shelter nights a year. And in the past year [we provided] over 42,000
meals. So we feel that [operating] as a non-profit [organization] using volunteers
and donations from the community is the most cost-effective way to deliver these
services to people. We are able to provide meals for less than ten cents a meal.
If you add the paper products, it is another ten or eleven cents per meal for
[both] the paper products and the [other] non-food items.
So we are able to deliver a meal for about twenty-five cents a meal, and we are
also able to provide the overnight accommodations which would of course be
much more expensive; I think it is now about eight or nine dollars a night per
M: So it is about eight or nine dollars a night?
T: I think the fact that these services have to be delivered at all is really
unchallenged, even by some of our opponents. If you have people in your
community that do not have food to eat or do not have a place to stay at night, it
is a good idea to try and provide some facility for them. About 90 percent of our
guests, with the help that we are able to give them and through their own efforts,
are able to get out and get into their own place again. So the services that we
offer are effective, both in terms of how much it costs to provide them, but also in
terms of what it can do for the guest or person who is there enjoying those
On the other hand, if those services were not provided at all, then the community
would have many more people on the street not getting back on their feet again.
So we can look at it in terms of the good that happens because it is there (which
I think is pretty obvious), but then also consider all of the problems that would
continue with people's needs going unmet if there was not a place in town like
the emergency shelter and the soup kitchen. So there is a lot of good that
comes out of it--both positive things that do happen and negative things that do
M: So in essence, it really takes the burden off of the community. You can say that
the money spent by the St. Francis House would really come out of the
community in another manner.
T: I think that is probably true. We are not talking about services that are really
options for people. [What] we are talking about [is] that they need a place to
sleep. If they are not sleeping with us they will be sleeping on the plaza, in the
library, in a park, in a bus station, or who knows where. It is not something that
is really an option. At one of these public hearings we had, the issue was raised
on how many meals we should be able to provide on any given day. They were
setting the number at seventy-five [and] we were saying, "We are already serving
so many more than that what are we going to do when we reach our limit?"
Our response is basically that we have to feed people. One businessman's
response was "Well, if you had a theater and were selling tickets and you sold
out your seats, you would have to turn people away. It is just something that you
have to do everyday in a business." That is a really nice example, but it does not
respond to the fact that a meal is a basic necessity. We are not talking about
whether or not you see a movie tonight or tomorrow night; you are not going to
be any worse off if you have to put it off for another night. On the other hand, if
somebody is hungry and you have to turn them away from a meal, they are
going to have to find that food somewhere. If they do not, they are going to end
up getting sick or become desperate enough to do something even worse than
trying to get a meal at a soup kitchen.
So we are talking about some basic human services that have to be delivered
more than one time a day, and they have to be delivered continuously. It is not
like you can feed somebody today, and now that you have taken care of their
need they can go away for a month and will not be hungry again. People need
to eat every day and people need to sleep every night. People need to be able
to clean up and wash their clothes and their bodies. We are providing the basic
human services that have to be provided one way or another. We do think that
we are giving them an option; we are giving them the alternative of coming to a
place where they can be welcomed in and find their needs met. Without that
alternative being there the only options would be to panhandle, which is not a
good way to solve the problem, or to steal something, which of course is even
worse. Even just to be begging from people who are not in a situation to even
respond to their need. There could be people that you would come up and
knock on their door and well, maybe they do not have a place where the
[homeless] could sleep. Or they could not bring them in and wash their clothes,
or give them a place to stay overnight, or [give them] food to eat.
So we are set up to do it people know where to go to get the help when they
need it. We are there to welcome the people in [and] to try and not only take
care of those basic human needs. But once they are there, then we use our
other services [like] our case management and all of the other things we can do
for them to hopefully get their problems straightened out and help them to get
back on their feet again. This is of course the goal of the whole system.
M: So you are operating right now on the limitation that you can only serve a certain
number of meals per day?
T: The way the ordinance is written says that we can continue operating the way we
are now, at the levels we are operating at today, until we go into the new
building. In which case, the new ordinance will apply to us.
M: [The ordinance] of seventy-five meals a day?
T: That is when we would be forced to turn away anybody [when we have] more
M: Is anything being done to overturn that ordinance?
T: Well, we tried that. We tried to go back and tell them that this is a mistake.
They set up a committee to review it but the committee reviewed it and said it
was a good idea. So the City Commission has basically told us, "Well, try it for a
year, and if it does not work we might change it." But in the meantime, at the
same time that they put a cap of seventy-five on the number of meals served in
any given day, they did add a new provision that would allow churches to serve
up to twenty people a day without going through all of this process of the special
use permit, and all of that. So their hope is that, by the churches opening in the
neighborhoods [and] serving twenty [people], there will not be large crowds in
any one place. They are saying that the service will be dispersed throughout the
community. But, of course, the whole community does not need a soup kitchen
in their neighborhood; there are many neighborhoods around town where people
do not need the services of a soup kitchen. So really what they are going to do
is try to spread them out in the more economically disadvantaged
neighborhoods, if the churches are in a position to do that. We really do not
think that they are. It would be nice [that] if they wanted to, they could. So we
supported that much of it but we did not support the companion part of the
ordinance that says that now that those churches are able to serve up to twenty,
the special use permit kitchens cannot serve more than seventy-five. Basically,
our position was, "Sure, let the kitchens serve if they want to, but they will put a
limit on any of the kitchens that are set up especially to do that."
M: It seems like there is a circular reasoning that goes on they are going to allow
the expansion of the building, but they are going to put a limit on the number of
T: You need to know that the same people who proposed those limits were the
same people that were trying to keep the building from being built in the first
place. So, once they saw that they were not going to be successful along the
lines of preventing the zoning permits to go through, they changed their tactics
and said, "Well, let us try and address the actual operations. If we cannot keep
the soup kitchen from being there, we want to limit the number." Their first
proposal was to limit it to fifty [guests]. At least the City Commission raised the
number somewhat. But it does not look realistically at the fact that we are now
serving over 130. If we are not in a position to be able to serve those [guests]
because of some city ordinance, at the same time we have the facility and the
food and the volunteers that we need to deliver those meals. They are saying
that, because of their ordinance those people will not be getting fed, even though
we could feed them. They are saying that, in order to reduce the impact on the
downtown neighborhood they are going to limit the number to seventy-five at that
site in any twenty-four hour period. [Although], it has yet to be established as to
what exactly that impact is.
M: Have they broken ground in this new building yet?
T: No, we are still going for the permits and there are still some issues of design,
funding, and exactly how we are going to build the thing. So it will probably be
this summer sometime before we start.
M: So it probably will not be until the summer of 1994 before that is even done.
T: Yes, it could be that long. It will not go into effect right away; that gives us the
opportunity to try and recruit some churches to do it. There have not been any
churches that have come forward yet. There are some that expressed an
interest that, when you explained to them that you need to serve no more than
twenty and you need to do it seven days a week and there cannot be another
church within a quarter-mile. It gets to be just a little much for the church to be
able to do it. They need to have the kitchen facilities and they need to have a
plan. They need to have personnel there. We are saying that we could help
prepare the food and give them the food to take over there. Again, our food is
already coming to us. We could try to make it as easy as possible for the
churches to participate in this, but it is a good possibility that they just cannot,
logistically, as a church, operate seven days a week as a soup kitchen.
M: So you might have to make some sort of compromise?
T: The other thing in all of this is that if you were to even open ten churches, it
would not necessarily take away our 120. It could be that they would be serving
a different 200 people. One of the other reasons we supported the option of
having churches to provide the food is that, we know there are people in some
distant neighborhoods that cannot make it to the St. Francis House to eat. Right
now, because we serve the meal on site, the people have to get themselves over
there to eat it. We think that if you were to open a church in some of these
neighborhoods, you could easily find twenty new people in those neighborhoods
to eat at that church that are not even coming to St. Francis house now. [It is]
just because of the fact that the church is closer and more accessible to them.
So we think that even if we were to recruit several churches it may not reduce
the number downtown. It would increase the total number getting fed, which is
probably a good thing. But even if you did it just the way the numbers show now,
you would need to have ten different churches before you would accomplish
what we are accomplishing downtown in one site.
M: What about people like the Hare Krishnas? Are they filling a big need?
T: That is another issue that came up in this whole ordinance. At the same time
that we already discussed the limits on the number of meals and the fact that the
churches can serve no more than twenty, they went one step further and said
"That is all well and good, except within 2,000 feet of the University campus.
They want to say that there can be no soup kitchens at all, even at churches
serving no more than twenty, within 2,000 feet of the campus. The reason there
is that they do not want the students to be put into a position of being accosted
by people that would frequent these soup kitchens. That the people who come
are dangerous. They brought up the example of [Danny Harold] Rolling, [the
man] who is supposedly responsible for the [Gainesville] student murders [in
1990]. They say that he was a transient-type, and would have been eating in
soup kitchens. We do not think that he did. Again, Rolling is an example of this
criminal who was out robbing banks and grocery stores and breaking into
people's houses to get the food he needed.
M: He would not have been allowed [to be at the St. Francis House].
T: Well, he would have had to get a police clearance to stay. I do not know if he
had an outstanding warrant. This just goes to prove that there is a limitation on
what you can do, even with the police checks. Unless the person has a warrant
out against him, he is not going to come up as a wanted person. So, there is
nothing to say. Just by asking for a police clearance, you are not going to catch
any violent or criminal person; you have to issue a warrant somewhere along the
line. But the University supposedly came out and asked the City Commission to
do this. At the same time that they are allowing the Hare Krishnas themselves to
serve a soup kitchen meal on campus to as many as 500 people a day. What I
understand is that the Hare Krishnas are serving [food] on the Plaza of the
Americas and as many as 500 students go through that line when they are there.
The University has not seen fit to close that down and they did not see that as a
threat to the students because of the people that were coming there to eat. So
the whole idea that the University would request a safe zone around campus
from an activity that they allow on campus just shows that there is probably
something else happening here that has nothing to do with soup kitchens and
the danger to students.
M: Contradictory again.
T: It does not make any sense. I think rationally speaking, there has to be some
other explanation, unless the people proposing this are just lunatics.
M: Maybe [President] Lombardi is a Hare Krishna [laughter].
T: In fact, I do not think that what is being said publicly is what is happening behind
the scenes. I do not think that the University pushed for the ban. And I do not
think the ban is to protect students from the undue impact of having to see
homeless people, or people who would frequent a soup kitchen in the
neighborhood. I do not see how students could feel threatened by that,
especially if it is a local neighborhood church serving twenty of the local people.
If somebody is suggesting that they are, I do not think they are being honest with
the public as to why they want the ban.
M: Do you think it has something to do with those businesses right there on
T: Well, the person who proposed the ban probably has the best idea [as to] why [it
was made]. I do not know that anybody in the neighborhood really supports it,
other than this person. And this particular person happens to own most of the
apartments in the neighborhood. He has been a strong opponent of the soup
kitchen all along.
So in a public meeting you can get up and say just about anything that you want
to; there is not much anybody can do to challenge you. You can get up and say,
"Well, that is not true," but it is not a court of law. These elected officials can
vote pretty much any way they want to, using any basis for their decision that
they care to elaborate on. There are probably always reasons to vote one way
or the other. But to say that they wanted to ban soup kitchens from around the
University campus to protect the health and safety of the students is absurd, I
M: I would have to agree with that because the Hare Krishnas draw quite an eclectic
crowd on campus and I do not think there has ever been a problem.
T: A lot of our volunteers are made up of this student community. A lot of the
students are certainly not afraid of homeless people. I do not know what kind of
a threat a homeless person or a person eating at a soup kitchen would have for
the average student walking down the street. There are probably as many
students who commit terrible crimes as there are homeless people who commit
terrible crimes. The same time that the City Commission was putting a 2,000-
foot buffer around the University to protect the University students, they did not
feel it necessary to put a 2,000 foot buffer around elementary schools and
middle schools and high schools in the community. So I do not think it was a
very noble thing they did that night when they did that; I certainly do not think it
was for the purposes that they talked about publicly.
M: I think if anything, the students would be more open and tolerant of homeless
people than the average person would be.
T: I think that is probably true. Even if you say it is to protect their safety, would you
not think that the safety of elementary school children would be in much more
danger than the safety of a college student?
T: To say that they needed to put a buffer around the University of Florida campus
to protect the students from abuse is just not being honest.
M: Yes, it is a sham.
T: That is good [laughter].
M: Do you think Gainesville has an unusual homeless problem for such a small city?
T: No, I do not think it does. I think that the fact that the University of Florida is here
does attract people. As we have been saying all along, a lot of the people that
we are dealing with are local residents who have been in town for years and
years. Even a lot of the people who come and stay in the shelter have had
family here, or have gone to school here, or have worked here in the past. So
this idea that homeless people are just drifting around, trying to go from shelter
to shelter, I do not think is really true. People who are on the road are headed
somewhere. [They] are trying to find work somewhere or are trying to go back to
where they had family and friends, or some kind of support. People are not just
aimlessly drifting around. If that was the case, there would never be a single
homeless person in New York City or Chicago, or north of the Mason-Dixon line
during the wintertime; everybody would just get up and move. And that is just
not the case. Homeless people, even though they may not have a strong tie to
the community, I think do have a reason for being where they are. They are not
just being blown around by the wind in general.
So if there is anything about Gainesville that is unique, it is that we are close to
an interstate highway where people are traveling south to Orlando or Disney
World or South Florida because of the hurricane. We are along a major national
highway where we may have some people stopping off from there. But again,
we probably have not even 5 or 10 percent of people that are new, in off the
highway. So most of the people are here because of Gainesville the city and not
because they are just attracted to the area. [It is] because of convenience.
M: It has more to offer than an average city?
T: Yes, as far as the services available here. That is another thing people say, "If
you build a big, beautiful facility the word will get out and every homeless person
around the country will come flocking over here to be able to stay, eat good food,
and all of that." Again, that is just not the case. One man described that as the
Mecca theory of homelessness; that somehow they are all going to want to go to
the most beautiful shelter around. Certainly, there are better shelters around
than what we have here in Gainesville. So that is probably an idea that we ought
to just put to rest.
M: Has the St. Francis House been around for over ten years?
T: The soup kitchen started in 1979 and the shelter [started] in 1980. So it [has
been] about thirteen years now.
M: How do you look at other homeless shelters around the country as far as the
housing, compared to the St. Francis housing?
T: Well, there is really no national chain of shelters. I do not even know that there
are standards. Now, I am involved with the Florida Coalition for the Homeless. If
you get any literature that you read that is based on national studies or even
some of the federal programs that we participate in send out case studies of
what the other agencies participating in these programs are doing and the
problems that they are facing and the way that they have come to deal with
them. We find that, even though we all basically started independently and are
operating without any real contact between agencies, we find that we are all
addressing the same sorts of problems in pretty much the same way. If you get
a group of people together [who are] all shelter providers, you end up all talking
about the same sorts of things, and having the same stories. Basically, [we have
all] decided to respond to those problems in pretty much the same way.
M: Do you think it would be a factor to have some sort of an organization or coalition
among homeless shelters?
T: We do we have a local coalition that deals with emergency services in general.
We have people there from H.R.S. and people from the county social services.
So the emergency service providers do work, and you really almost do it on a
daily basis. You refer people to all of the different agencies where they might
need some help. We do it on a local level then. We have the Florida Coalition
for the Homeless where we have shelter providers from all over the state that
meet quarterly. We have an annual meeting so we all meet together there and
talk about the same kinds of things. The federal government has gotten even by
regions. The southeast has gotten together several times and had conferences
on homeless issues and things. So I guess there is quite a bit of contact
between the different service providers.
M: So in the time that you have been at the St. Francis House there must have
been some pretty vast changes in the system and the way things are run, and in
the expansion of programs.
T: Well, I think so. When I first came people were staying for three days and no
more they had to leave. We did not have any laundry facilities (to speak of) for
non-guests. We did not have case management at all. When I first started, the
house opened at five in the evening and closed up at eight in the morning.
There were no services provided during the day, except that we came by for
lunch. When I first started we were serving indoors and now we are serving
outdoors again. So some things have gotten worse, I guess. The numbers have
certainly increased from about twenty-five or thirty a day to now on average,
about 110. So the numbers have increased quite a bit. I think what we are able
to do for people has [also] increased quite a bit. The fact that we now have our
case manager full-time [has improved our effectiveness]. So there have been a
lot of changes. [Even] the public perceptions of homelessness as a problem
has come about since I started working at the St. Francis House. The word
'homelessness' was not even coined back when St. Francis House first opened.
[End side A2]
T: The St. Francis House was just trying to respond to a local problem. We had
people coming up and asking the churches for food. There were people
sleeping outside and so they said, "Well, let's get together and start something."
Since then, through the efforts of Mitch Snyder and some of the other people in
Washington, [we] have gotten the federal government to respond with programs
specifically designed to address homeless people. Over the years the numbers
of dollars going to homeless programs has increased. So we do see that there
are more efforts; the problem has been identified pretty well. There are people
doing long-term studies now that show how these numbers change over time,
what some of the causes are, and how [it is] best to respond to them. So there
has been a real effort to respond to the problems that really, up until now, [there
has been the Salvation Army]. The Salvation Army has really always been in this
kind of a business, [as in] the experience of the Depression back in the 1930s. I
guess there were a lot of soup kitchens then. Maybe in the boom time of the
1950s and 1960s there did not seem to be much of a problem, but I guess it was
in the early 1980s when homelessness became a real issue in the public mind.
M: As the economy has turned downwards, do you think that is why the numbers
have increased so much?
T: Well, there is that, and the fact that the federal government is not as involved in
providing housing subsidies as they have been in the past. The whole issue of
deinstitutionalization of the mentally ill since the early 1960s plays a part. The
whole job market [also plays a part] in terms of the kind of economy that we have
these days, where we no longer have as many industrial jobs and manufacturing,
those kinds of things. We are now into low-scale service jobs that do not really
support a family very well.
So there are a lot of changes that have come about where even some of the
housing units that poor people used to live in are being bulldozed now for urban
redevelopment. Or gentrification has come in and taken buildings where people
who are now homeless may have lived in the past, and have turned them into
more upscale units. [This] has really put the squeeze on the low end of the real
estate market in terms of the numbers of units that people have available to
M: Do you think that the problem is getting worse?
T: Well, the numbers seem to be increasing still at St. Francis House in terms of the
number of meals served. It could be that the people that are out there have got
more serious problems than they have had in the past. They have been on the
street longer and they need more sorts of services to get them out of their
situation. It might have been in the past where people were homeless for a
shorter period of time and once they found that job again they were able to get
back on their feet. Now it seems that people are homeless longer and they need
more help to get back into mainstream society.
M: So by right of the fact that they are homeless longer, their support network is
T: That is it, and their mental condition deteriorates and their attitudes and
behaviors. In order to survive in that situation it takes much different sorts of
behavior than it would if you were living in a house and had a place to go home
to at night and a place to eat and get cleaned up. It is a totally different
circumstance when you have to be out on the street, just getting by in any way
that you can.
M: It becomes one of the profound problems that is scary.
T: Yes, I think that people get used to doing things that people should not have to
get used to. Maybe they do not see the value as much anymore of having some
of those things that we all kind of take for granted. They are just not in a position
of being able to get back into that lifestyle again. If a person sees that they can
get by with certain things, [they will].
M: They will satisfy themselves.
T: I guess that is part of it. Maybe in this economy people think you need all of
these different things and people find out that maybe that is not the case. [It is]
not so much that they have a choice in the matter, but they have to learn to
survive with less. [And] in doing that, maybe they just do not have any
motivation to work and work and work, and to do all of these things to get back to
a situation that they do not think they really need.
M: I know this is kind of a pithy question, but what do you think needs to be done to
remedy the problem, to make some sort of solid progress and sort of turn it
around in the other direction?
T: I have been reading a book recently that talks about some of the origins of all of
this mess; most of it can be pinned to the mental illness aspect of it. And then
that gets into the whole issue of community mental health what can we do to
keep people from becoming mentally ill? My goodness, if anybody knew that I
am sure [that] we would be doing it. But yes, [there are] all of these kinds of
seminars and whatnot, and ways that you can get people to take care of family
members who are mentally ill. If you can prevent them from becoming mentally
ill in the first place, we are all better off. But somebody [should] find ways to try
and be able to provide for mentally ill people so that they do not have to be out
on the street. Again, that gets into what their particular illness is. That may be
how it manifests itself--that they will not stay in the house. But there is that and
the whole issue of drug addiction and alcoholism. You have to get to the root of
those major social problems.
M: Which could be mental illness, I suppose as well.
T: It could be mental illness, [or] it could certainly be attitudes and their self-esteem.
Who knows? Experts have been working on drug addiction and alcoholism,
trying to find cures for generations. They just really have not found anything
really successful. There does not seem to be any magic cure.
I guess a lot of it certainly goes way beyond just providing housing. This one
book I was reading had a chapter on the effects of the welfare system on family
structure. Certainly, in America today, the family unit is undergoing some radical
changes. I think that the author put it in terms that the institutions or the social
structures that have been helping us to survive in the past are coming under
some serious attack now. The family, the churches, and even government and
local communities [are under attack]. They are having a hard time teaching
values to the kids coming up now. People shake their heads saying, "My God, it
did not used to be like this, and I cannot quite figure out why." I think that
homelessness is probably just another one of those manifestations of the society
as a whole having a hard time keeping itself running [and] organized in a
productive way. We are having a lot of youth that cannot find jobs and they are
turning instead to antisocial behaviors to survive. I just read the other day that
kids are coming to middle school with beepers to emulate the drug dealers in the
neighborhood who have the beepers and the fancy cars. No longer is the role
model a successful adult. It is [now] these guys that are out beating the system.
[It is] the whole idea of a counterculture coming in and providing the role models
for these kids coming up. This book is called RudeAwakenings[: What the
Homeless Crisis Tells Us (San Francisco, CA: ICS Press, 1992)], and I think the
author's name is Richard [Weddington] White. But he was saying that it is these
kinds of things that lead people down the path that ends up in homelessness.
When you do not have strong family units and when you do not have job
opportunities, and if you do not have effective mental health treatment programs
and things to keep people from getting involved in drugs and alcohol, those of
the germs of events that eventually lead to the person being homeless. So if you
really want to find a solution to homelessness, it certainly is not building more
houses and putting people in a house. I think people have come to recognize
that will not solve the problem. You can put people in a house now, but a
mentally ill person or a substance-abusing person will not be in that house long.
M: We have to reconstruct some sort of a safety net, is [that] what you are saying?
T: Well, it is to where you do not need the safety net as much anymore. Sure, you
need a safety net. When people fall you need to be there to help them up. But I
guess we are talking about people that are always in the net. It almost seems
that the net is not big enough. There may be holes in the net, but it is a situation
where people are just not finding alternatives to that.
M: Everybody is falling at once.
T: So many people have fallen. The society does not seem to be finding productive
uses of young people's time. Not all obviously, we are not in the middle of a
civilization catastrophe. But I do not know, maybe we are. Who knows? But
you could look at it in those terms. Basically what we have got is a hole [in the
net]. They have used the term "underclass" in several books that I have read
about it. These are people who are not even staying in the welfare system. The
welfare system has become a way of life for them. It is not a safety net
anymore; it is a way of life. We are talking about among the homeless, there are
people that have actually fallen through to the bottom of the underclass. These
are people who really just have nowhere to go, nobody will put them up, and
nobody will put up with them in terms of some of the things that they are doing.
They have turned their backs on society and I guess we can keep trying, but
there are some people who would not be welcome at the St. Francis House
because they have done things that we cannot put up with. And we are in the
business of putting up with some off-the-wall stuff.
I guess eventually, you have to realize that there are some people who you are
just are not going to be able to help. We were talking about that today on the
way home from the soup kitchen. There are people there whose purpose is to
be rebellious. And no matter what you ask them to do, they will do the opposite.
We had garbage cans all over the property, and some people would be very
good about taking their garbage and putting it in the can. Other people would
just throw it on the ground just as you asked them not to; [it was] just to go
against your authority. If you went around telling [these] people, "Do not throw
any of the garbage in the cans," those would be the people who would go over
and throw it in the can, just to do the opposite of what you asked. I think there
are probably a lot of people out there with that kind of an attitude. You can try
and find out where the attitude comes from and try to change their attitudes, but I
do not know if you will ever do that 100 percent in any society. But I do think that
homelessness is just a symptom of something much broader and much more
serious in terms of how they got into that situation and how we are responding to
T: How does it affect you personally? Do you find it rewarding or emotionally
M: Let me discuss that in terms of how I felt when I first came, and how it might
have changed over the years. When I came as a volunteer, I had never been
there before. First of all, I had this image that I was going to be dealing with
drunks. I had lived in New York City already so I had seen a fair number of
people living on the street. And I thought those would be the people that we
were trying to help. When I got to the house I found out that you do not let
anybody in if they have been drinking, and they have to follow these rules and
regulations. So really, the first thing that surprised me was that there are a lot of
rational, sane people who are homeless. There are among the homeless the
mentally ill and the alcoholics, but there are a lot of other people as well. First it
surprised me that there should be this much hardship, or people with problems
who tried as hard as they might and [were] not making it. That surprised me. I
thought that all of the homeless people would be just drunks and people who
were mentally ill. So I came to find out that it was a lot more than just that.
So then it felt good that I was there to help those people, that there was a place
like St. Francis House. It still, to this day, feels great. It amazes me when you
see so many people in the community that come out to help and want to support
you in that. So it gives you a good sense of the future to know that there is still
an attitude of helping out your neighbor in the community. You hear some
people say, "Oh, they do not deserve it," but you hear other people say, "I've got
it, I am blessed, and I want to help them too." You are never going to be 100
percent one way or the other, so I think it is great that I see so many people
come out to help their neighbors when there is a crisis. That is good.
But on the other hand, you see so many people with so many problems. Again
some of the people made their own problems, but a lot of them are just in a bad
circumstance. We have had people that could have avoided the situation that
they are in if they did not make some poor decisions. But we have other people
there that, try as hard as they might, they will probably never be in other
circumstances. It reminds me of this man I saw walking down University
Avenue. He was a guy that I had known. Basically, he was going through the
garbage cans looking for cigarette butts or something to eat, or who knows what.
He was walking down the street right next to a University professor with a
briefcase, a pipe, a tweed coat, and a little hat. There were students of all sorts
in between. It made me think that we all occupy the same space; we all live here
in Gainesville. But what Gainesville is to all these different segments of the
community is totally different. There is the University professor who would not
think of looking in the garbage can for anything. And then there are students
who kind of fly-by-night; they are pretty rough and tumble and ready to go for just
about anything. They might not quite understand exactly how the professor feels
about everything, but at the same time they are not going to be looking in
garbage cans either. And then you have the guy on the very bottom who is just
trying to survive, who is looking in the garbage cans for things, and even though
we are walking down the same sidewalk together, we live in totally different
worlds. Our needs and our concerns, day to day or minute by minute, are totally
different. The ways that we have of behaving are appropriate for those different
worlds. I really call them different worlds the different worlds we live in. For
most people, it would not be appropriate to get something out of a garbage can.
But for that guy looking through the can, it is a good way to see if there is half of
a cigarette that is not smoked that he can pull out and smoke. He is being
M: There is nothing wrong with that.
T: And certainly as far as morals go, it would be wrong for that University professor
to walk into a store and shoplift, or even if he saw somebody's bag or books
laying on the street, to go and take them. But then at the same time, if you saw
this person who is eating out of a garbage can, from our own point of view, how
can we say to that person, "It is wrong for you to go into that garbage can and
get something out of there if you can use it?" Or to try and walk into someplace
and grab an extra burger off of the counter if you are hungry. We can say, "Yes,
it wrong." And it is probably wrong we should say it is wrong anyway. But I just
wonder how wrong it is to that person. Can we honestly say to that person there,
"You are doing a wrong thing, and you should know that it is wrong." How wrong
could it feel to the guy that has not eaten in two or three days or does not have
any real source of food? To say, "You do not have an option of going in and
taking it," is [impractical].
It just made me realize then that the codes of behavior that the codes of
behavior that we try to live under may not be appropriate for someone else. Or
at least, you can understand how that someone else, that guy who is eating out
of the garbage can, how he might feel like he is not a part of this society and that
he has kind of been left behind. Maybe if it is a good rule for them, it does not
mean that it is a good rule for him. They might even come up with an attitude of,
"Well, if it is a good rule for them, I am not going to do it."
Obviously, we all share differently in the wealth of the society that we are in.
Maybe we all have some value in paying taxes to support a fire department so
that they will come and put the fire out in my house. Certainly, you can see the
value of that. But why does the person living on the street with nothing need a
police department or a fire department? I think we approach some issues with a
totally different point of view. I guess the challenge for us would be somehow to
want to try and understand how that person is, and what kind of a world he lives
in. If you are trying to help him, at least try to connect somehow with what he is
thinking. At the same time if you are there and you are trying to judge him and
say, "Gee, that is disgusting; how can that guy eat out of a garbage can?" From
our point of view it is [disgusting], but from his point of view it probably is not. So
it is important for us to try and understand what that person is going through too
before we start putting all of our feelings and all of our morals and rules of life on
somebody else who is living in a totally different world.
M: You reach a common ground?
T: Yes, but is there one? I was saying, "Yes, he is on University Avenue." That is
the common ground. I mean literally, but also figuratively. In Gainesville, we are
all living together. It is one city and one community. But is there a common
ground for our lives and their lives?
M: That is the dilemma.
T: Yes, I guess the dilemma would be to juxtapose them, even if there is not a
conflict. There has to be some way we can live together. I think maybe part of
that is that the people that have resources support a St. Francis House, and we
try and give them what they need so that they do not have to live like that. But
we cannot impose our will on them and say, "You have to live in a house and you
have to wear clean clothes every day. But we would like to be able to be there to
help you if that is what you think is good for you." But then when people come in
with attitudes and want to complain, I guess from their point of view they have a
good reason to complain.
So some days I feel like I am being very effective and we are providing a lot of
services. On the other hand, some days it is like, "This is way beyond anything
we can do." I guess that is the big difference. Normally, I feel good because I
run into a lot of nice people. I work with a lot of nice people and I see people
coming with donations and whatnot, who are caring and concerned. Hopefully, I
am involved enough in the community to make a real difference, that I do not
have to feel despair all of the time. I think there are solutions to some of these
problems. Some of the things that are set up there to provide solutions do not
work all of the time. I would not ever believe again that the government can
solve any of these problems. I do not think that will ever happen. There were
just things about government that make that almost impossible.
M: Bureaucracy, in general.
T: [It is] the way people approach government, and the way the government
approaches people. There are certain things that the government can do, and
there are certain things that it cannot. There are probably a lot of these issues
that the government cannot do much about. They can provide resources to us
and they can tax us. The one nice thing about government is that they can
probably come up with just about all of the money they ever really wanted or
needed to have. We cannot go out and tax anybody but we do think we could
spend the money better than the government could. So some of the things that
are set up to help are not really helping much, which is a little discouraging. On
the other hand, you realize that non-profit [organizations] are different and they
can do things differently; that is the way it should be.
M: [They have] certain advantages.
T: But generally speaking, I think things are pretty positive. There are people out
there trying to help. There are people looking at problems and trying to find
solutions. There is a light at the end of the tunnel.
M: The outlook is hopeful.
T: Yes, I would say hopeful.
M: Who is Mitch Snyder?
T: Mitch Snyder is dead now; he committed suicide. He was one of the big
advocates for the homeless people in Washington D.C. in the early 1980s. He
was one of the leaders of the Community for Creative Non-Violence (CCNV) in
Washington D.C. He started big shelters. He went on long fasts until the
government gave in to his demands. They even made a movie about him with
Martin Sheen. He is really the man who brought homelessness into the public
eye. He committed suicide when they started investigating how he was running
his shelters and things. I guess he was going to break up with his girlfriend. It
was just the kind of thing that homeless people probably deal with. Some people
choose to commit suicide, and some people end up on the street. I guess it is
another good example of the pain that is out there that brings people to this
situation. There is certainly a large emotional part of being homeless. [There is]
a lot of psychological element to why they ended up there. Some people can go
through these problems and survive okay, and some just never do. Of course it
all depends upon your support system. We find that, especially among the
mentally ill, that the mentally ill who end up homeless just do not have the
support network as the same mentally ill people who do not end up homeless.
M: They reject the ones that have.
T: They just do not have them. They may not come from a wealthy family, but from
a poor family. The wealthy guy lives. His parents put him in a private hospital
somewhere, and this guy is out on the street. So that is why, when they say they
are homeless because they are mentally ill, the people at the mental health
center will say, "Wait, hold up." There is something other than the mental illness
which makes them homeless, because other mentally ill people are not
homeless. There is always a specific reason why they are homeless, and not
some other way. You can say that there are homeless people who are mentally
ill, and homeless people who are alcoholics, and there are homeless people who
are not working. Whatever it is, there are always mentally ill people who are not
homeless, alcoholics who are not homeless, and people who are not working
who are not homeless. So what is it about their particular circumstances that
makes them homeless? That is probably where you get into the emotional and
psychological problems they deal with. I do not know, I do not think anybody has
a real answer on that.
M: Yes, there is a different reason for every person, I guess. You cannot
generalize; stereotypes can always be wrong.
T: Maybe we fell into that too. You try to do that, I guess, in order to be able to deal
with large numbers of people, to try to make sense of it and know how to
respond. You cannot tell a __ response to every individual case as best as
you can. You need to try and say, "Well, that fits a general category. Generally
speaking, it is good to do this or that."
M: Yes, make a formula.
T: I guess that is a natural thing; to try and understand something, you have to
M: Okay, thank you.