The latest census of Pinellas County's homeless reveals troubling information about children. Of those without permanent homes in the county, 40 percent are younger than 18, reflecting a 2 percent increase from a year ago.
If there is good news, homelessness shows what appears to be an infinitesimal decline.
According to the 2011 point-in-time count conducted on the night of Jan. 23 by volunteers for the Pinellas County Coalition for the Homeless, 5,887 people were without homes, compared with 5,949 a year earlier.
"That still means, over the course of the year, we are looking at 22,000 people who will be homeless, because most people are not homeless every day during the course of 12 months," said Sarah Snyder, executive director of the Pinellas County Coalition for the Homeless.
"If they get money, they'll go rent a hotel room or ... they would go rent an apartment for a week or two and then they're homeless the rest of the month."
Snyder attributed the slight drop in homeless numbers to a decrease in those who live on the streets and are not in shelters or other temporary quarters. She pointed out that the county's newest shelter, Pinellas Safe Harbor, opened two weeks before the Jan. 23 count. The shelter had 233 people that night. "That's 233 people we would have found on the street," Snyder said.
The new count continues to reflect the nation's economic crisis, with a majority of those who participated in the survey blaming layoffs and other financial setbacks for their predicament.
"We have families that are on the street now that a year ago had a house or they had an apartment, and because one or both parents have lost jobs, or there may have been some kind of medical emergency, or in the case of some of them, their landlords went into foreclosure and they were evicted, they lost their housing," Snyder said.
"What we're seeing now with the new homeless families is ... people who have gone through all of their family and all of their friends and there is no one left (to turn to). Sometimes families will hang on to their cars, because it gives them a place to get out of the rain."
The Pinellas County School District reported 2,110 students without stable housing, 80 percent doubled up with others, perhaps sleeping on the couches of family or friends. Others lived in hotels and motels, in emergency or transitional housing, or in cars, parks and campgrounds. A few were waiting for foster care.
The survey also found 269 children not included in the school district count. Among them were 99 children who live with families without shelter and 65 mostly runaways living on the street.
St. Petersburg is ground zero for the county's homelessness, hosting more than half of those without a permanent place to live. Clearwater is a distant second, with Tarpon Springs, Pinellas Park and Largo falling far behind.
Waveney Ann Moore can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 892-2283.
* * *
Pinellas homeless, by the numbers
Men, women and children......6,235......5,949......5,887
Homeless children in Pinellas County
1,700 share homes with other people
341 are in emergency or transitional shelters
144 live in hotels or motels
21 wait for foster care
9 live in cars, parks, campgrounds
65 are unaccompanied children without shelter
99 with families, but without shelter