TAMPA — The official number of homeless people in Hillsborough County has nearly doubled, partly because of a new definition of who is homeless.
Volunteers counted 17,775 homeless people in the county's Jan. 27 count, which for the first time included people who were doubled up in a relative or friend's home or in a motel room.
The count also includes people who live on the streets or in shelters and numbers from the Department of Children and Families and the school district.
This year's survey found that 10,424 people were doubled up — for example, two families in one home or individuals sleeping on other people's couches — leaving 7,336 living on the street or in shelters.
The survey, conducted at least every other year, counted 9,566 in 2009. In 2007, it was 9,532.
The increase was a surprise to the Homeless Coalition of Hillsborough County, which does a biennial count as required by the federal government.
"Our hope is that the community will reach out," said Rayme Nuckles, chief executive of the coalition.
The survey also for the first time asked respondents if they panhandled as a source of income. Seven percent of homeless people reported doing so out of 65 percent who reported having a source of income.
Nearly half of the respondents said they were homeless because of unemployment or financial hardship. Fifty-one percent said they were experiencing it for the first time. Ninety percent were already living in Florida when they became homeless.
Children accounted for 23 percent of the homeless. Sixty-five percent were men and 35 percent were women.
Demographic statistics from the survey show 44 percent were Caucasian, 55 percent were African-American and 14 percent were Hispanic or Latino.
All information is self-reported and relies on a snapshot of the homeless counted in a 24-hour period, which always results in an undercount, Nuckles said.