tampabay.com

11,023 homeless in Hillsborough, survey finds

The increase over the previous survey is blamed on a lack of affordable housing and wages that aren't high enough.

By MARCUS FRANKLIN
Published March 23, 2005


TAMPA - The number of homeless people counted this year throughout Hillsborough County rose 36 percent since the last count, homeless advocates announced Tuesday.

Some 200 volunteers combed streets, shelters, motels, cars, tents, abandoned buildings and other common gathering spots to count people who lack permanent housing, the Homeless Coalition of Hillsborough County said.

The coalition, which coordinated the count, also collected figures on the homeless at the Department of Children and Families, the Hillsborough County School District and the county jail.

The unscientific total: 11,023. That's up from the 8,082 homeless people counted in the last homeless census, in October 2003. The totals don't include the homeless who are living with friends or relatives.

"We're seeing more homeless people because of a lack of affordable housing and a lack of a housing wage," Rayme L. Nuckles, the coalition's head, said during a health fair for the homeless outside Hyde Park United Methodist Church, 500 W. Platt St.

Nuckles, citing figures from the National Low Income Housing Coalition, pointed out that the fair market monthly rent for a typical two-bedroom apartment in the Tampa Bay area is $805, up from $569 in 1998.

In order to comfortably pay $805 a month, a person would need to earn at least $15.48 an hour, Nuckles said. Many among the homeless aren't making that kind of money, he and others said.

Most people in the residential program at Metropolitan Ministries earn less than that, said Lesa Weikel, a spokeswoman for the Tampa organization. The program helps single women and families move from homelessness to their own places.

"The jobs they have aren't going to make that happen," Weikel said, citing a woman who works in customer service who's been in the program at least a year.

The previous survey was conducted in October 2003, and this one was in January. Weikel said there is a perception that there are seasonal fluctuations in the number of homeless, which might account for some of the difference in the results. But, she said, "I haven't seen any data to support" that assumption.

In Pinellas County, the number of homeless people counted in a similar census this winter increased 11 percent, said Fred Fearday of the Pinellas County Coalition for the Homeless, which did the count in that county. Fearday also blamed "stagnant wages" and rising housing costs.

But the housing crunch extends even to those who qualify for subsidized and public housing.

At the Tampa Housing Authority, for example, more than 3,500 families are on the waiting list for Section 8, the subsidy program. The average wait: 16 months, said Lillian Stringer, a spokeswoman at the housing agency.

Some 2,900 families are awaiting public housing, and the list is closed, she said. Many, Stringer said, need two or more bedrooms.

Census volunteers surveyed about 5 percent of those they counted. Among the findings:

One out of three reported having an income from work.

One out of three reported no source of income.

Eleven percent said they received Social Security or disability payments.

Roughly one out of four said they suffered from a mental health or physical disability. A quarter also said they had drug or alcohol addictions.

When asked what they "really" needed, most respondents named permanent or transitional housing, emergency shelter, financial assistance, health care, education and job training.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development requires agencies that receive federal funds to address homelessness to conduct a census.

Nuckles said such groups include the survey results in grant applications in hopes of receiving more money. In January, the coalition received nearly $4.2-million in HUD funds to disperse to about a dozen service providers, Nuckles said.

"But just because we include them doesn't mean we're going to acquire any additional funding," he said. Funding, he said, is based on county population, not the homeless count.

WHERE THEY COUNTED

Streets and in shelters: 3,766

Department of Children and Families: 4,295

Hillsborough County School District: 1,758

Motels, cars, tents, abandoned buildings: 102

Estimated number of homeless people in jail: 1,102

Total: 11,023