ST. PETERSBURG — The foreclosure crisis continues. The jobless rate remains in the double digits.
Those two factors could lead to a 10 percent increase in Pinellas County's homeless population this year, said Sarah Snyder, director of the Pinellas County Homeless Leadership Network.
But the real problem, she said, is that there will be less help to give to the growing numbers of needy.
After three years of government cuts and declining donations, homeless shelters and social agencies say they have been forced to eliminate staff and reduce their services.
"It means more people on the street, more families on the street, more people in the woods," Snyder said. "Until the economy turns around, we are going to continue to see more people become homeless for the first time, and without the funding to keep shelters open we are just going to continue to see a decrease in the numbers of beds we have available."
The fiscal quagmire has pitted government leaders against social service agencies, who are clamoring for more cash at a time when property values have dropped, leaving many governments with far fewer resources than in years past.
Pinellas County cut most of its funding to local social service providers, as did many cities. Hopes that the state will renew its social funding this year also are low.
More than 15 agencies rallied for funding at last week's St. Petersburg City Council meeting, but the council opted to put $2 million in surplus dollars into its reserve funds and consider funding for social service groups at a future meeting.
"This is a rainy day and we need to use this money in a very productive way," Linda Osmundson, executive director of Community Action Stops Abuse, told the council.
A January survey found there were 6,235 homeless men and women in Pinellas County — an increase of 20 percent from 2007.
Social service providers said they are unsure whether they can keep their doors open without public assistance.
The YWCA of Tampa Bay has run deficits since 2005. The provider now is considering selling its headquarters. Shelter beds have been reduced to 91, down from 147 in 2007. City and county funds dropped by $61,000, dealing a severe blow to the program's $300,000 budget.
"We haven't just lost funding this year. We lost funding last year. We lost funding the year before," said executive director Joyce Pritchett. "When we have to start laying off, all we do is add to the problems."
Family Resources, which offers counseling and shelter for children moving out of foster care, lost $30,000 in local funding, money that covered a case manager's salary. That employee had to be let go.
"We are not as able to serve as many of the kids and we aren't able to serve them as completely as we have in the past," said Lisa Jackson, vice president of grant development for Family Resources.
Lisa Howard, director of development for the St. Petersburg Salvation Army, said the agency had to ask for government aid for the first time in its history. It previously relied on private donations, but donors have been unable to keep up with the growing public demand, Howard said.
By year's end, the agency estimates it will have fed more than 127,000 people, compared to roughly 100,000 in 2007.
The Salvation Army also would like to convert offices currently being used by its administrative staff into additional family shelter units, but does not have the necessary funding to complete the project.
More volunteers would not be enough to keep the agencies afloat, because many grants require the shelters to maintain a professional staff. Also, fewer donations mean some shelters could soon be disqualified from grants that require matching funds.
"I know the poor will always be with us," said Jane Trocheck Walker, director of DayStar Life Services, which provides services to low-income or homeless people. "But we've got poor with us now who used to help the poor."
Cristina Silva can be reached at (727) 893-8846 or email@example.com.