By: Emma Kennedy | Pensacola News Journal
Homeless advocates have identified three alternative campsites to relocate the growing population under the Interstate 110 overpass.
A lot in the 2200 block of North Palafox, the rear area of the REAP Lodges women’s and children’s shelter on North S Street and an empty lot off of Mobile Highway are all under negotiations to be transformed into homeless encampments before Thanksgiving, according to Pathways for Change CEO Connie Bookman.
Bookman is one of the leaders of the Homelessness Reduction Task Force of Northwest Florida, a group formed to study and implement both short- and long-term solutions for Pensacola’s homelessness and housing crises.
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She said the three sites have been identified with factors like elevation, security, and proximity to other services in mind, but even though they will operate as campsites, there are still costs to consider for items such as bathrooms, management personnel and security staff.
“We have a goal of closing the I-110 encampment by Wednesday, Nov. 24,” Bookman said. “We want the people that want to be on private land and receiving services to have a safe place to celebrate Thanksgiving.”
A budget estimate created by homeless advocates shows each site would range from $316,000 to $178,000 to run for one year, with a significant portion of that being startup infrastructure fees. The remaining cost comes from line items such as full-time managers and security, utilities, metal detectors, computer equipment, and bike racks, for example.
Bookman said she hopes some of the funding needed could come from $3 million in American Rescue Plan Act funding that the city of Pensacola is expected to assign to the homeless reduction task force to distribute. But she’s also hoping community donations could help alleviate that need and speed up the process of closing down the interstate camp.
“We need donations to get it done this quickly, we can’t wait for the federal dollars,” Bookman said. “With these new encampments, they’ll be fenced in and they’ll have security on-site so it’ll be much better for them.”
The I-110 site has been under a City Council-imposed eviction moratorium since February. It has continued growing and advocates have grown concerned with such a large population living there without regulation.
Most recently, the City Council extended the eviction moratorium one more time, but ordered that all people camping underneath the overpass needed to be gone within 90 days, which would be at about the start of the new year.
Vinnie Whibbs, executive director of REAP or Re-Entry Alliance of Pensacola, said he expects negotiations on the three replacement encampments to be complete this week as they’re in the final stages, and requests for funding will come next.
“I really think that certainly by Thanksgiving we’d have the replacement properties that can work for the people and improve their situation,” he said.
The homeless reduction task force is holding its last public meeting Friday, when it will finalize the projects outlined in the $3 million ARPA funding request.
In a document tentatively brought to the City Council last month, the task force determined projects like a pallet shelter village, a recovery center, a mobile response team, a new shelter, and replicating the North Carolina-based Lotus Campaign would help to alleviate homelessness in the Pensacola area.
Friday’s meeting will finalize those decisions and allow the public to give comments on the ideas, Bookman said.
From there, the task force will submit the full plan with a cost breakdown to the city by Nov. 1, and the City Council is expected to discuss the plan and funding allocations the week of Nov. 15.
Emma Kennedy can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 850-480-6979.
This article is also published on Pensacola News Journal.