Make us your home page

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

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

  1. Trigaux: How Moffitt Cancer's M2Gen startup won $75 million from Hearst


    TAMPA — A Moffitt Cancer Center spin-off that's building a massive genetic data base of individual patient cancer information just caught the attention of a deep-pocketed health care investor.

    Richard P. Malloch is the president of Hearst Business Media, which is announcing a $75 million investment in M2Gen, the for-profit cancer informatics unit spun off by Tampa's Moffitt Cancer Center. Malloch's job is to find innovative investments for the Hearst family fortune. A substantial amount has been invested in health care, financial and the transportation and logistics industries.
  2. A boat lays on its side off the shore of Sainte-Anne on the French Caribbean island of Guadeloupe, early Tuesday, Sept. 19, 2017, after the passing of Hurricane Maria. [Dominique Chomereau-Lamotte | Associated Press]
  3. 7.1 magnitude quake kills at least 149, collapses buildings in Mexico


    MEXICO CITY — A magnitude 7.1 earthquake stunned central Mexico on Tuesday, killing at least 149 people as buildings collapsed in plumes of dust. Thousands fled into the streets in panic, and many stayed to help rescue those trapped.

    A woman is lifted on a stretcher from of a building that collapsed during an earthquake in Mexico City, Tuesday, Sept. 19, 2017. [Rebecca Blackwell | Associated Press]
  4. FHP seeks semitrailer truck driver that left fiery wreck on I-75


    TAMPA — The Florida Highway Patrol is looking for the driver of a semitrailer truck that sped off from an Interstate 75 crash that left another car burning on Tuesday afternoon.

    Troopers were looking for the driver of a semitrailer truck that sped off from an accident scene on Interstate 75 in Tampa on Tuesday afternoon that caused a car to catch fire. [Courtesy of Florida Highway Patrol]
  5. Joe Maddon gets warm reception in return to the Trop

    The Heater

    ST. PETERSBURG — The night was arranged to honor former Rays manager Joe Maddon in his first visit back to the Trop, and the standing ovation from the bipartisan crowd and scoreboard video tribute seemed proper acknowledgments of his hefty role in the Rays' success during his nine-year stint.

    Chicago Cubs manager Joe Maddon (70) talks with reporters during a press conference before the start of the game between the Chicago Cubs and the Tampa Bay Rays at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Fla. on Tuesday, Sept. 19, 2017.