Gainesville planning board cites number of hungry residents in advising commissioners

It is time for Gainesville to eliminate the restrictions on how many meals a day the St. Francis House homeless shelter and soup kitchen may serve, a city advisory board says.

Monday night, the Gainesville Planning Board decided that, given the number of homeless and needy people in the community, the application before them to waive the 130-meal limit on three holidays each year did not go far enough.

Toward the end of a marathon meeting, their recommendation was to expand on that and do away with the meal limit on all 11 national holidays.

While there currently is no active application to do so, the Planning Board then went further and recommended that the City Commission consider the total elimination of any meal limit for the St. Francis House, which is south of downtown on Main Street.

Planning Board member Adrian Taylor, the pastor of Springhill Missionary Baptist Church, recommended the repeal of the meal limit, while acknowledging the debate over the shelter is a « polarizing and difficult issue » for the city’s elected officials.

The meal limit at the St. Francis House has pitted some downtown merchants and homeless advocates against each other for more than a decade. Planning Board Chairman Bob Cohen noted the conflict could stretch another 10 years if a balance between the two sides is not struck.