Friday, May 18, 2007

The results of the homeless census for Sarasota and Manatee counties done by the Suncoast Partnership to End Homelessness were released Thursday.

In January 2007, volunteers with the partnership went out for 24 hours and conducted face-to-face interviews with people who are homeless in Sarasota and Manatee counties.

According to the survey results, there are 1,043 homeless people in Sarasota and Manatee counties -- fewer than half of the reported number two years ago and far less than people working with the homeless estimate.

Mary Ruiz, director of Manatee Glens, said a good estimate for all the homeless people in Sarasota and Manatee counties is around 10,000.

Martin said the partnership survey did not result in an accurate count of homeless children, either.

According to Ruiz, a partnership board member, in Manatee County schools there are 2,030 homeless children, and the numbers in Sarasota County are thought to be comparable.


Every two years, the department of Housing and Urban Development requires a homeless census to be done. While the results of the 2007 census were lower than the survey done two years prior, Richard Martin, the executive director for the partnership, said it was no indication of the true homeless population in the two counties.

"A lot of the homeless refused to take the survey," Martin said. "They want to remain invisible."

Martin said there are many reasons a homeless person might want to remain anonymous. He said fear of authority, fear of social service intervention about their children, and the stigma associated with homelessness are some of the reasons that kept people from participating in the survey.

Martin had given his volunteers who conducted the survey specific training on how to indicate the homeless that didn't want to participate. He said somehow that training had been lost along the way.


Martin said that another way to get more accurate numbers of the homeless population is by tracking the people who use services available to help the homeless, such as the ones available from the Salvation Army.

The Homeless Management Information System is a database designed to track people using such services, without counting them twice if they use a variety of agencies.

The HMIS database produced a count of 6,245 homeless people receiving services in Sarasota and Manatee counties for 2007.

Also, according to Martin, the Sarasota Salvation Army serves 500 meals a day to people in need.


According to the census, 54 percent of the people surveyed cited poverty, lack of employment and money as the reason they were homeless.

Ruiz said it is estimated that people need to make roughly $15 an hour to be able to afford an apartment in Sarasota and Manatee counties.

Other major causes that contribute to homelessness are a mental or physical disability and substance abuse. Both can prevent a person from maintaining active employment.


Martin said he didn't expect the results of the census would influence funding from HUD. However, he did refer to the Florida Legislature's special session in June and the outcome of the property tax reform movement.

He said that if the Legislature cuts funding for community programs, it could affect the amounts given to services for homeless people in Sarasota and Manatee counties.

Census results for County Homeless

488 total homeless

73 percent male

27 percent female

64 percent White

38 percent Hispanic

18 percent Black

4 percent Native American

90 percent single

10 percent married

83 percent between ages 18-60 years

52 percent have a disabling condition

28 percent have a physical disability

13 percent have a mental illness

22 percent have a substance abuse problem

44 percent have been homeless for more than a year

17 percent were veterans (an increase of 14 percent from 2005)

By Courtney Linn

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