Beyond the Law School: Helping the Homeless
Only a small percentage of Gainesville’s homeless people can access food and shelter, and inclement weather hits this group hard. Legal Writing Professor Joe Jackson and CGR Director of Social Policy Elizabeth McCulloch help distribute food, blankets, clothing and supplies to the homeless during semiweekly ‘runs’ as volunteers with the Homeless Outreach Mobile Effort (HOME). During last week’s freeze, they brought hot chocolate and provisions to 40 of Gainesville’s needy. “We give a hand-out, not a hand-up,” said Jackson, former chair of the now-disbanded Safe Space Task Force, which had generated ideas for temporary homeless housing at the City Commission’s request. “We don’t think of it as ‘enabling,’ because people sleeping in 28-degree weather are not eager to remain homeless. We just help improve a dire situation.” McCulloch, who teaches Poverty Law and Policy and directs The Florida Bar Foundation Public Service Law Fellows Program, views homelessness as a systemic problem. “Affordable housing has decreased since the 80s. It’s like musical chairs: if 12 people compete for 10 chairs, two will be without a chair.” McCulloch was named an Alachua/Bradford County Woman of Distinction last year in recognition of her community involvement and service, including chairing the Board of Directors of the domestic violence shelter “Peaceful Paths” and serving on a county task force on indigent health care. She recently wrote a layperson’s guide to Florida’s welfare program for low income people and social service providers. According to McCulloch, causes of homelessness vary: “Closing of state mental hospitals in the 70s put many disabled people on the streets, but that is only one reason. Others are like the 50-year-old woman who quit her job to nurse an ailing family member. When she tried to find work again, she couldn’t. Now she’s homeless and wondering why.” For others, homelessness resulted from early mistakes involving education, sex or drugs. “Poor people don’t have many cushions,” McCulloch said. “Rarely are they rescued from ‘youthful indiscretions.’” “We all receive help in one form or another,” Jackson noted. “Mortgage interest tax-deductions, for example, are government subsidies. They just benefit people who can afford houses.” McCulloch aimed closer to home. “Publicuniversity law students pay only 25 percent of their actual education costs: the state pays the rest. And the government subsidizes student loans.” “The homeless are as varied as any other group,” she added. “Some drink, but I imagine the same is true of many college students.” Jackson said. “Most of the homeless I’ve encountered are good people. I offered one man food, and he said, ‘I’ve got enough for now, give it to someone who needs it.’” HOME does not request donations, but will accept them. Clean clothing/blankets and canned/boxed foods that need no cooking can be placed in boxes outside JMBA’s office, and checks can be written to Liz McCulloch or Joe Jackson (230 or 250 Bruton-Geer Hall) with “HOME” written on the memo line.