It will still be dark on Thursday morning when volunteers fan out across Pinellas as part of the county's attempt to count the homeless population.
Every two years, Florida counties are required by law to take a census of the people living in their network of shelters, as well as on the streets and in the woods. During off years, officials make a rough estimate of the population, based on how many are in shelters or are identified as homeless by the school system.
This year, the Homeless Leadership Board is sending out 150 volunteers in Pinellas, according to its executive director, Sarah Snyder. It also is adopting Hillsborough County's practice of encouraging homeless families to call into a phone bank, a way of being counted without the embarrassment of being seen.
In 2011, the last time the county conducted a full-scale census, it counted 5,887 homeless people. Of those, about 2,000 reported they had spent the previous night in a shelter.
"We're expecting at least as high, if not a higher number for families this year," Snyder said. She also anticipates finding a greater number of homeless young adults, many of whom have run away from the foster care system or been kicked out of their homes.
Snyder said she is less sure what to expect for a number of individual homeless people, which could be affected by the January 2011 opening of the Safe Harbor shelter. Some of the people who have sought shelter there have since found housing, she said.
The census will begin at 4 a.m. Thursday and last until 9 p.m., but Snyder said that volunteers will continue to count people on Friday, visiting food pantries where homeless people often congregate.
A final number for the county's homeless population will not be available until March, she said.