Officials in Pinellas and Hillsborough counties expect to see more homeless people during next week's census because of high unemployment and families doubling up in homes.
This is the first year the count will recognize an updated federal definition of homeless people to include families living in another family's home. Pinellas County's count is set for Monday, and Hillsborough County's is Thursday.
The census is important to those who help the homeless because it helps determine federal, state and local funding.
"With the economic times, we anticipate an increase, but obviously it's very difficult to count every homeless person in a one-day period," said Lesa Weikel, a spokeswoman for the Homeless Coalition of Hillsborough County.
Pinellas County also expects to see an increase, especially among families and the newly homeless, said Sarah Snyder, executive director of the Pinellas County Coalition for the Homeless.
"We're seeing folks who were hanging on by their fingernails the first couple of years now just at the bottom," Snyder said.
Officials say this year's count will offer the most complete picture of homelessness in Tampa Bay. But it's still going to miss some people.
Several variables affect the count. It could rain, or it could be freezing. Some may refuse to participate in the survey.
Pinellas plans to count people who are doubled up by contacting them through schools and state and federal agencies that provide aid for people on the verge of homelessness. Hillsborough will depend on doubled-up families to call and report themselves (Pinellas families also can call in), or it may find those who seek aid at a service provider.
The methodology has improved over the years to reduce the chance of counting the same person more than once.
Organizers don't have the 570 volunteers needed to cover the 1,100 square miles of Hillsborough County, Weikel said. A week before the count, the coalition had 300 volunteers. In 2009, about 275 volunteers counted 9,566 homeless people.
Pinellas County has roughly 215 volunteers this year, 40 more than last year, Snyder said.
Authorities in Hillsborough County have said for months that more panhandlers are working the streets since St. Petersburg banned street solicitations on June 3, and the Tampa City Council this week took the first step toward banning panhandlers from major roadways.
But Weikel said a worsening economy is more to blame than St. Petersburg's ban, citing a survey in August of 14 panhandlers that found fewer than 20 percent had panhandled recently in St. Petersburg.
Snyder said next week's homeless count will help clarify the situation. Hillsborough County's survey will try to determine whether panhandling is a source of income for the homeless.
Totals from the count won't be available for a few months.