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Point In Time Homeless Survey Underway

Nathan Monk

The 2015 Point-In-Time Homeless Survey is underway around the country. The count is conducted over a 24 hour period to count sheltered and unsheltered homeless persons and to determine their most pressing needs.  Locally, the 2015 survey in Okaloosa and Walton Counties was conducted on January 22. The Escarosa Coalition on the Homeless will begin its annual count on this Wednesday.   

This year, the Point In Time Survey is starting a little earlier than usual, with plans for volunteers to fan out at sunrise.

“We’re going over to the Loaves and Fishes Soup Kitchen to start the day off. And, we’re deploying about 20 volunteers in that area to count…mainly over there we will be seeing the families because it is a family shelter,” said Serene Keiek, Project Manager for the Escarosa Coalition on the Homeless and Point in Time Coordinator.

About 100 volunteers will be deployed to sites throughout Escambia and Santa Rosa counties, where Keiek says homelessness is prevalent.

“If you just take a look around, you can see we have homeless. They’re just about on every corner and every shelter is full, every program is full. So, we do have homeless here. We do have probably more homeless, apparent homeless that you see in Escambia county. The invisible homeless is in Santa Rosa County.”

Invisible homeless are more often ‘families’ who are temporarily bunking with family and friends.

For this year’s count, Keiek expects more success in counting those more visible homeless individuals in Escambia who panhandle and live at various camps. She says the goal is to cover more ground than they’ve been able to in the past.

“We think that is one of the reasons why the count was low for the homeless,” Keiek said, noting that the coalition has been making great strides in developing good relationships with the people who take care of the homeless and serve the homeless. “We’re building trust patterns. So, we believe that this year, we are going to be seeing a difference in our count.”

Although homelessness remains a serious problem, homeless counts in recent years have generally reflected a decrease across the board.

For example, the Point In Time Survey in January of 2014 recorded over 578,000 homeless people in the United States, a slight decline of about 2% from 2013.

In Florida, there were 41,542 total homeless a drop of about 6,320 or 13%.

In the two-county area of Escambia and Santa Rosa, the total homeless in 2014 was 843, with 232 of those unsheltered. That’s down from 2013, when the region recorded 945 total homeless with 382 of those unsheltered.

Keiek does expect an increase in the 2015 homeless count and she believes it will reflect a more accurate tally, which is imperative when it comes to securing resources.

It does report to HUD (U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development) why they do funding in this area. It does give us a trend on the homeless, if it is going up or down and also gives us a trend on the chronic homeless. These are the people who are consistently homeless, with a disability impact as well,” said Keiek.

She says the data gives them some idea of the level of homelessness in the area and allows better planning for resources and services to meet the needs of the homeless.

One example of how funds are put to use, is the One Family, One Home, One Year program, in partnership with Habitat for Humanity, where families can stay in housing for one year. There’s also the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families and ESG grant funds that pay to house families in a motel in Santa Rosa.

This year’s Point In Time Survey will continue through Thursday morning. Afterward, the Escarosa Coalition on the Homeless will host their Third Annual U-Count Homeless Services Day. The event will provide an opportunity for individuals to access haircuts and hot meals; as well as a number of services intended to help move them out of homelessness.

It will be held 10 am to 1 pm at the Salvation Army in Pensacola.

Sandra Averhart has been News Director at WUWF since 1996. Her first job in broadcasting was with (then) Pensacola radio station WOWW107-FM, where she worked 11 years. Sandra, who is a native of Pensacola, earned her B.S. in Communication from Florida State University.