Stew Lilker’s

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County's United Way Is the Homeless Coalition: "The problem is getting worse," Ron Williams, Jr. 

Combined graphic showing Jennifer Anchors, Ron Williams, Jr., homeless person
                          Photos: Anchors, Williams: Observer; "Seeking Human Kindness:" Mat Collamer

COLUMBIA COUNTY, FL – Columbia County's homeless and panhandler issues have been swept under the carpet for the past 10 years. Some think United Way is the problem.


Panhandlers and the homeless have been like a "dirty little secret" in Lake City/Columbia County for about a decade. One would occasionally see a gal with a shopping cart hanging around the Lake City town square, but what tipped over Mrs. O'Leary's lantern were the panhandlers – homeless hanging out under the I-75 U.S. 90 interchange.

It has been reported to the Observer that the moving force behind the current crackdown was TDC member and hotel magnate Nick Patel, whose investments along U.S. 90 in Lake City appear to be in the tens of millions.

After last Monday's joint City-County meeting your reporter spoke by phone with retired marine and former Democratic candidate for the Florida Legislature, Columbia County's Ronald Williams, Jr.

Mr. Williams did not pull his punches.

Ronald Williams, Jr. on the United Way

The Observer: "Good evening. I was interested in what you had to say about United Way and the homeless-panhandler issue brought up at tonight's meeting. Do you have a couple of minutes?"

Mr. Williams said he had to meet his wife, but your reporter convinced him to spend a few minutes.

Observer: "Thank you. I will try and go quickly. What problems did you have with United Way when you were a member of the Homeless Coalition?"

Mr. Williams: "My experience with United Way was not a pleasant one. It appeared they had their own policy and it was negotiated between a couple of people - what you could do and what you could not do. Having a policy that you have to be part of a network for a number of years is not my idea of helping."

Observer:  "What does that mean?"

Mr. Williams:  "You have to be a part of the Homeless Coalition for a number of years before they will allocate funds to you."

Observer: "How do they determine who they accept?"

Mr. Williams:  "I was in. I wasn't going to be putting in time with people who wouldn't listen. They put too many burdens on people."

Observer:  "Jennifer Anchors [United Way Executive Director] said there are certain guidelines from HUD."

Mr. Williams:  "That's correct. They take the money and split it up."

Observer:  "So they are like a distribution center?"

Mr. Williams:  "That's correct."

Observer:  "So if you're friendly with the right people you get the grant, or at least some money?"

Mr. Williams:  "That's correct. I have a lot of experience and been in a lot of places. They don't want to listen."

Ron Williams, Jr.: His take on the problem

Mr. Williams:  "There are a lot of people that want to stay out on the Street. That is why Gainesville established Grace Market Place. They let them live outside and provide services like restrooms. They leave the people alone. You can't have any selfish motives behind what you are getting ready to do. Some people just want to put their name out there... You can't put political stuff in taking care of homeless people. It doesn't work."

Mr. Williams:  "It's a shame. The County Commissioners and the City Council don't know nothin' about a homeless coalition that they've had around here since 2009 or 2010. You're talking ten years that this thing has been going on and they have not impacted our community – not one bit."

"United Way should have been contacting the City and the County. You can't do this kind of work without them."

"United Way is holding all the data... They are not sharing it because they don't want people to know what's going on in that little circle."

Observer:  "The United Way circle?"

Mr. Williams:  "That's correct. As far as I know there is not adequate treatment available in Lake City."

Observer:  "By the way, what did you do in the marines?"

Mr. Williams:  I've been doing drug and alcohol counseling for years. I ran units. I know what it means to treat people with problems."

Observer:  "What's the problem?"

Mr. Williams:  "People need to learn to listen to people who know what they're doing when it comes to homelessness. You cannot have a Homeless Coalition and the problem is getting worse? You cannot just throw money at it, because it doesn't work that way."

Observer:  The County and the City are appointing members to be on a homeless committee. Would you be interested in being appointed to that?

Mr. Williams: "I would love to be on the committee."


Observer: "Thank you for your time. I hope you don't end up in divorce court for keeping your wife waiting."

Mr. Williams had the final word: "No problem. My wife knows who you are."

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