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Friday, May 25, 2018
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Agency recounts Hillsborough County homeless

TAMPA - Three months ago, volunteers set out to count the number of homeless in Hillsborough County, but the final tally appeared low. So a countywide recount was held today to help get a more accurate result. Seventy to 100 volunteers with the Homeless Coalition of Hillsborough County, wearing orange shirts and carrying clipboards with a more concise survey, set out for locations around the county. Volunteers canvassed the streets from 4 to 8 p.m. Meantime, Hillsborough County sheriff’s deputies and Tampa police officers took surveys throughout the day.
Maria Barcus, chief executive officer of the coalition, approached the homeless with the five-minute survey in hand, asking for name, birthday, disability and how long they’ve been homeless. She said the new survey should help give an accurate picture. The questions were cut down from the original two pages and an additional vulnerability survey was eliminated. Volunteers also counted the homeless who refused to take the survey, something they didn’t last time, she said. The survey was conducted on a Tuesday, a night that is popular at feeding sites, Barcus said. In January, the survey was done the Thursday before the Gasparilla parade and showed a nearly 50 percent decline over the last survey period. Two years ago, more than 17,000 homeless were counted in Hillsborough County. “It’s good news if it goes down, but we also want to make sure we have an accurate count,” Barcus said. “It’s documenting of the need. It doesn’t necessarily affect how much money you get. The main thing is for us to know the magnitude of what we have to do.” Rick Gossett, who has been homeless for 10 years, said it couldn’t hurt to take the survey. He hopes it helps to bring more programs. “If we could get everyone (homeless) to do this, maybe we could get something done,” said Gossett, 55. “We can’t even get housing down here.” Mitch Manseau supports the surveys, which are typically done every two years, but doesn’t see the benefit trickle down. “I don’t see it working, like feeds, homeless shelters, showers,” said Manseau, who has been homeless off and on for 15 years. “I see one (shelter): the Salvation Army,” said Manseau, 57. “If it’s full then you can’t come in.” In January, Mohammed Al Hajji volunteered to count the homeless. This time around the survey is more streamlined and greatly improved, he said. “It was too long and a lot of people were reluctant to finish,” said Al Hajji, who is studying public health at the University of South Florida. It has been gratifying to help, he said. “I would like for the homeless people in this county to be served better,” said Al Hajji, 25. “To do that, we need a good count.”

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