BROOKSVILLE — In a year of record-breaking foreclosures and rising unemployment, it's not surprising that Hernando County officials are planning for rising numbers of homeless residents.
But that's not the only number they'll be tracking when they conduct their annual homeless census on Jan. 24.
They're worried about all those people who are living on the edge.
Helping people before they slip into homelessness is far easier than trying to put them back on their feet later, said Barbara Wheeler, director of the Mid-Florida Homeless Coalition.
"Our biggest goal is to find those at-risk folks and match them with resources," she said. "Once they are on the street and living in survival mode, it's much harder."
County workers typically see the poorest of the poor. But lately they're seeing applicants from the next rung up the economic ladder, said Jean Rags, director of health and human services.
Such people are often uncomfortable seeking help and have little idea of what services are available, she added.
And it's much harder to find those on the edge of homelessness. People who live in rural areas tend to be more in contact with friends and family than those in urban areas, and can often find support and a couch while they seek work or housing, Wheeler said.
So this year's count will focus on two tiers of need. The first includes families and individuals living in shelters or places not intended for habitation such as cars, parks, forests or abandoned buildings. The second includes individuals who are currently sharing housing due to foreclosure or unemployment.
The county uses the homeless census data to secure both federal and state dollars.
During last year's event, about 30 volunteers — including several homeless guides — fanned across the county to collect an accurate number. Participating organizations in the coalition include Love Your Neighbor, the United Way and Mid-Florida Community Services, among others.
Individuals interested in helping with this year's census should call Francine Ward at (352) 796-1425.