The number of homeless kids and teens in Pinellas County has more than doubled in the past two years.
According to a report designed to provide a snapshot of homelessness in Pinellas, there were an estimated 961 kids younger than 18 who were homeless in 2007. This year, that number has increased to 2,224, an increase of 131 percent.
The overall number of homeless increased as well, though not quite so dramatically: from 5,195 in 2007 to 6,516 in 2009, a 25.4 percent increase.
And in what may be an indication of how services for the homeless are being overwhelmed, the number of homeless without shelter took a huge jump: from 1,221 to 2,890, a 137 percent increase.
The numbers are preliminary results of a survey conducted in January by the Pinellas County Coalition for the Homeless. The final report is due out by Friday.
"This is an indication of the financial situation," said Sarah Snyder, executive director of the homeless coalition. "We're seeing people who have never been homeless before."
Snyder said another reason for the increase is a more sophisticated count than in 2007, which includes better numbers from the Pinellas County School District and more volunteer counters in north Pinellas.
The numbers are no surprise to those who provide services.
"The need is up. Donations are down,'' said Wanda Weber, executive director of the Shepherd Center of Tarpon Springs.
"If we were a 1,000-bed shelter, we'd be full by next week," said Barbara Green, president of the Homeless Emergency Project in Clearwater.
As it is, HEP has a waiting list for the 60 beds devoted to veterans and has 24 families in residence who have a total of 47 kids. Of those, 35 are school age, most in kindergarten through eighth grade.
HEP is not alone in seeing more families coming in for help.
"We're seeing fathers with children ... married couples with children," said Pastor Joe Gill of the Solid Rock Church in the unincorporated Lealman area. "A lot of people are just one paycheck away from being on the street, and when they lose that job ... unless something comes along right away, they end up on the street in 30 days."
That's what happened to Mary Hite's family when her husband, Maurice, lost his welding job about a year ago. The family then lost their home. The Hites and their three children, one about a month old at the time, sought shelter at the YWCA and then moved to Touched by an Angel in St. Petersburg. They've been there ever since.
Things are looking up, Hite said. Her husband has a job, and she's going to try to go back to work at Wal-Mart in Pinellas Park. But with low wages, the pair barely make their bills, so it's hard to save money to find an apartment or other housing. And, Hite said she doesn't want to "move somewhere and then fall again. I want to make sure we're stable."
It's not just the homeless whose numbers are rising, Gill said. The working poor, who are barely hanging on, are also a growing group. The two together, especially combined with a poor economy, are straining resources.
Gill said his group is "running out of food faster than we have in the past." And that's only going to get worse, he said. The school system gives the Solid Rock leftover food each week. But with summer coming on, school will be out and that source will dry up. Gill said he's not sure what's going to replace it.
Anne Lindberg can be reached at (727) 893-8450 or email@example.com.