Homeless recount yields another low tally
January’s survey of homeless people in the Tampa area came buck with an unexpected result: the number of people living in shelters and on the street was nearly half that of two years ago.
Concerned that the tally was somehow skewed, the Homeless Coalition of Hillsborough County conducted a recount last month.
The results were released Friday and the new findings almost mirrored the old: a 47 percent decline in the number of homeless people living in Hillsborough.
Maria Barcus, the chief executive officer of the Homeless Coalition, said she’s not sure if the decline can be attributed to initiatives to help the homeless, an improving economy or merely inaccuracies caused by people who didn’t want to participate in the surveys.
“I think it’s a good sign,” Barcus said. “But there’s no way of knowing if this was real progress or due to undercounting.”
Cindy Davis, the program director for Trinity Café, which serves daily meals to the homeless, said she thinks the count is inaccurate.
“Judging from the number of people we feed every day, I don’t see any decrease,” said Davis.
Davis said the cafe at 1603 N. Florida Ave. feeds an average of 220 people a day. On Friday, the cafe served 250 meals.
“I just keep seeing a lot of people,” Davis said. “There’s certainly not a decrease in need.”
The coalition’s homeless count is conducted every two years. Barcus said starting next year, the count will be held annually for more accuracy.
“Counting homeless people is not an exact science,” she said. “But it’s still the main indicator we have of who’s out there and who needs our help.”
The January survey tallied 2,275 people who didn’t have a permanent place to live. The survey two years prior had counted 4,681.
Two years ago, there were 3,225 people living on the street, according to the survey results released Friday. In 2013, there were 944.
The coalition pointed out several initiatives for helping decrease the homeless population. The appointment of police officers as homeless liaisons guiding people to services instead of “arresting them for minor infractions” is a factor, Barcus said.
Another factor that could have helped reduce homelessness is rapid re-housing programs, two of which focused on veterans, that assisted 1,900 people between the 2011 and 2013 homeless counts, the coalition said.
The 2013 recount was completed during a four-hour period in April, compared to a 19-hour period three months earlier, so the numbers released Friday were slightly lower than the results tallied in January, Barcus said.
Volunteers canvassed the streets from 4 to 8 p.m. on April 9 and law enforcement officers took surveys throughout the day.
People were given a five-minute survey asking for name, birthday, any disability and how long they have not had a place to live.
“It is not possible to locate every homeless person, especially those who are unsheltered, in a single day,” Barcus said. “However, the count numbers are the best way to get an understanding of homelessness in our community.”