Homeless Numbers Jump Up



No issue in recent years has grabbed more headlines than chronic homelessness, but for all the debate and controversy about various solutions, the number of people living on the street has gone up substantially in the last year according to an annual report released Friday.  

The 2016 Homeless Point-in-Time Community Report, published by the Suncoast Partnership to End Homelessness, shows the number of people in Sarasota and Manatee counties identified as homeless jumped from 1,198 in 2015 to 1,468 this year, an increase of 270. Manatee County has 201 more homeless people this year and Sarasota County had 69 more according to the report. But Sarasota still remains where the bulk of transients stay, with 64 percent of the those counted in this region in Sarasota County and 34 percent in Manatee. The numbers are based on the annual Point-In-Time Homeless Census conducted on the night of Jan. 25, coinciding with a national annual census of homeless people conducted nationwide.

There are multiple reasons for this trend, the Suncoast Partnership found. Part of it is that homeless in Manatee were most likely undercounted last year but greater elements include a rise in housing costs and a shortage in places available to rent. “Landlords can choose who they want as tenants,” said Leslie Loveless, Suncoast Partnership executive director. “You have to look at the cost of housing and look at the wages people are being paid and the overall change in the economic climate."

There were a couple of points of optimism. Homeless families are down from 81 to 78, a slight improvement but a gain nonetheless. The report finds that the chronically homeless remain the most difficult group to get out of a cycle of homelessness.

Political leaders have been at loggerheads for years over addressing homelessness. The City of Sarasota, for example, has supported an expansive Housing First approach of putting transients directly into housing while Sarasota County leaders have pursued creation of a come-as-you-are shelter. Loveless said all solutions should be employed but those solutions are impeded by a lack of housing stock. “We haven’t had affordable housing created in our community in 10 years,” she said, saying the one significant to exception there has been hotel-to-efficiency apartment conversions done by businessman Harvey Vengroff. Meanwhile, Loveless said about 10,000 affordable units were lost between 2000 and 2010.

“It’s a combination of not having enough affordable rentals with lower wages,” Loveless said. Sarasota County, for example, has an average wage 20.6 percent below the national average.

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