TAMPA — In January, more than 300 volunteers spread out across Hillsborough County to count the homeless population.
But at places where those living on the streets had gathered just weeks prior, volunteers found no one.
At the end of the daylong event, the count turned up about half the number of people living on the street as in 2011, the last time it was conducted, said Maria Barcus, chief executive officer of the Homeless Coalition of Hillsborough County, which organizes the event.
"The numbers would make you think we had this great breakthrough," Barcus said. But that's not true.
"The number is not consistent with the reality we see on the ground," she said.
To prove that, the Homeless Coalition plans to conduct a recount on April 9.
The organization will have to receive a waiver from the state and federal government to do so. They expect that to come later this week
Under federal law, counties are required to report the number of homeless every other year. This year's count, held on Jan. 24, took place the Thursday before Gasparilla, which may have caused some homeless to flee from their usual spots, Barcus said.
"There was a lot of disruption," she said.
The recount will focus on those living on the streets or in shelters, which in 2011 numbered 7,335. Organizers believe the number may have decreased slightly, according to data gathered from shelters and service centers, but not by half.
"If that was the case, the ones that are seeing people walk in the door would notice a difference," Barcus said, "and they didn't see that."
The Homeless Coalition will need about the same amount of volunteers for this round as the last to ensure the recount is a success.
An accurate count is important, Barcus said, not only for funding purposes but to give the community a correct representation of the problem.
This year's count showed that the number of people at the highest risk for becoming homeless, typically those living temporarily in someone else's home, increased slightly since 2011. That number seems on par with current reporting, Barcus said.
The organization also announced Tuesday the renewal of more than $5.1 million in grant money awarded by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. The funding goes to 23 housing programs that serve homeless men, woman and children in Hillsborough County.
Along with the grant money, the county was chosen as one of 10 areas nationwide to receive extra help from the HUD and the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness to combat the problem.
Launched Sept. 29, a local committee will work toward ending homelessness among veterans, kids, families and the chronically homeless, said Karen Jackson Sims, deputy regional administrator for HUD.
"We're saying even more needs to be done than renewal," Jackson Sims said. "That's the base. We've got to work from that base."
Shelley Rossetter can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 226-3401.