Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Hernando County conducts annual homeless census

Jim Yeske fills out a census form for David Strausbach in woods near Brooksville last year. The state’s homeless definition now includes those living with friends and family due to the economy.

WILL VRAGOVIC | Times (2009)

Jim Yeske fills out a census form for David Strausbach in woods near Brooksville last year. The state’s homeless definition now includes those living with friends and family due to the economy.

Counting the homeless has never been easy.

In a rural county like Hernando, it often means wandering through woods, and when you do stumble upon someone, trying to build trust in a matter of minutes.

Sometimes there's only evidence of someone who was there — old lawn chair cushions, clothing and a few empty cans — but no one to answer census questions.

On Sunday, volunteers conducted the county's annual homeless census. While three groups of people scoured spots around the county where they have found homeless camps in the past, there is a growing awareness that people who cannot afford their own housing are generally not living in the woods.

Thus, organizers this year opted for a day in which both Love Your Neighbor and People Helping People, one on each side of the county, serve free Sunday meals to the homeless and the needy.

While the exact census numbers won't be known until the surveys are analyzed, volunteers focused on connecting those in need with available resources.

"Don't give up hope," Barbara Wheeler, executive director for the Mid-Florida Homeless Coalition, told one woman as she scribbled down the phone number of an agency she thought might be able to help pay an electric bill.

The state's definition of "homeless" has been expanded this year to include individuals who are living with friends and family members due to loss of housing or economic hardship.

Those who work with the homeless are hopeful that the broader definition might produce a more accurate count.

"In the past, we believe (the census) understated Florida's homeless count," said Pastor Bruce Gimbel of Jericho Road Ministries.

"We've seen an increase in families coming for shelter assistance," Gimbel said. "And many families that are coming for food have indicated that they have other family members or other people living with them."

On Sunday, volunteers encountered both those considered chronically homeless — including those living in the woods — as well as those who are struggling as a result of the recent economic downturn.

"A lot have lost their better-paying jobs," said Donna Hunter with the homeless coalition. "They are working, but they don't have enough to keep paying the rent, the car payment, the car insurance and the electric. They just don't have enough for everything."

For volunteers who organize free dinners in Spring Hill and Brooksville, whether someone is homeless or in need of an extra meal to make a fixed income last through the month, it's all the same. "None of us really realizes how close we are to being one or two steps away from being the person that needs the help," said John Callea of Love Your Neighbor, based in Brooksville.

Across town in Spring Hill, JoAnne Boggus with People Helping People echoed the same sentiment. "It could be any of us," Boggus said. "We run into people who have never had to access the system."

And for those needing help for the first time, it's not easy to know where to go.

"Many senior citizens never thought they'd be worried about this in their lifetime," said Wheeler. "We try to connect people to resources."

According to previous census counts, the number of homeless individuals has varied over the past few years, with only 185 getting tallied last year.

But with unemployment at nearly 15 percent and record foreclosures, those who provide services to the needy continue to believe the numbers are much higher.

"Homelessness is reaching a higher socioeconomic level in our culture," Gimbel said. "It's getting closer to home."

Shary Lyssy Marshall can be reached at slmarshall.sptimes@gmail.com.

Hernando County conducts annual homeless census 01/26/10 [Last modified: Tuesday, January 26, 2010 8:14pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. See you later, alligator! Reptile captured off Miami Beach (w/video)

    Wildlife

    MIAMI BEACH — Police and wildlife officials captured an unwanted visitor on Miami Beach.

    An alligator was spotted swimming in the Atlantic Ocean near the South Pointe Park pier in Miami Beach on July 23, 2017. News outlets quoted viewers who said it took officials about two hours to capture the gator. No one was injured.

  2. Dog dies in hot car while owner cleans Florida condos

    Public Safety

    PANAMA CITY BEACH — Authorities say a 2-year-old Chihuahua died in a hot car while its owner was cleaning condominiums in Florida.

  3. Recipe for Nutty Quinoa Carbonara

    Cooking

    If you've never made carbonara, consider adding it to your weekday dinner lineup. It is a traditional Italian pasta dish in which eggs are mixed with cheese and then swirled into cooked pasta just before serving. The result is a luscious bowl of food you won't believe contains so few ingredients. This recipe swaps …

    Quinoa Carbonara. Photo by Michelle Stark, Times food editor.
  4. Jared Kushner says he has 'nothing to hide' on Russia (w/video)

    National

    WASHINGTON — Senior White House adviser Jared Kushner is denying that President Donald Trump's campaign colluded with Russia, saying in a statement ahead of congressional interviews that he has "nothing to hide."

    White House senior adviser Jared Kushner listens during the "American Leadership in Emerging Technology" event with President Donald Trump in the East Room of the White House in Washington on June 22, 2017. [Associated Press]
  5. Forecast: Less stormy weather to start week in Tampa Bay before chances ramp back up

    Weather

    After some stormy mornings throughout the weekend across Tampa Bay, Monday kicks off pretty quietly with a cloudy, yet mainly dry start.

    Tampa Bay's 7 day forecast. [WTSP]