Illustration by Sydney Martin.

Read about the beginnings of the respite center in our piece from last fall.

Ten months ago, the Gainesville Peer Respite, Florida’s first and only peer respite center, opened in a temporary space at the United Church of Gainesville. Come November, the center is expected to move to its new home at 728 NE University Ave. and expand its services.

The center is part of the growing peer support movement in mental health.  It is not staffed by traditional clinical doctors who work to diagnose and then treat; staff members are instead referred to as “peer specialists.”

The center also rejects the title of “patient,” viewing those who come seeking help as peers — anyone who has “[self-identified] as having some sort of lived experience,” peer specialist Nina Plocek said. Peers are supported through empathy, as peer specialists have struggled with mental illness.

“We roll differently,” Jane Emmeree said. “ There’s a lot of persons who have commented that the traditional clinical model is very disempowering. You lose your say, you lose your autonomy, and we want to never have that happen.”

The center’s new home will be open 24 hours a day, Monday through Friday, and will offer four bedrooms where guests will be able to stay overnight for up to 5 days. Currently, the center holds workshops, such as creative writing and meditation, that are designed to foster empathy. The full opening of the center will expand these services to a full schedule, which will continue to be free, thanks in part to a grant from the Community Foundation of North Central Florida.

Photo by Sean Doolan.

The Peer Respite Center’s new home at 728 NE University Ave come November 2016.
Photo by Sean Doolan.

Jackie Davis, a board member for the respite, said the new center will also operate a warmline. Unlike a hotline, which is strictly for crises, the warmline will be for people who may not be in an extreme situation but still need someone to talk to.

The staff plans to visit the University of Florida and Santa Fe campuses to spread information to students about the model. Both schools offer mental health resources for students, but the offices can be understaffed. The center hopes to be another place students can go to find relief and community.

“Just knowing myself and some of the difficulty I had when I was an undergraduate, it would have been a great place for me to be able to go and connect with the greater Gainesville community as well,” Plocek said.

Though they still hope to increase attendance, peer specialists have already felt the significance of their work.

“With the amount of contact that I’ve had with people in the community, I definitely feel like I’m making an impact,” Plocek said.