Manatee, Sarasota counties help make Florida third in number of homeless people

newsintern@bradenton.comJuly 13, 2013 

PALMETTO -- The 17th annual Florida Neighborhoods Conference gathered residents from different counties in the Sunshine State to discuss the issue of homelessness.

The presentation was coordinated by Suncoast Partnership To End Homelessness, the Orange County Office of Mental Health and Homeless Issues Division, and Florida's Neighborhood Rehabilitation Program.

"We see people becoming homeless because of our economy," said Heather Thomas, senior program manager at the Orange County Office of Mental Health and Homeless Issues Division, during her presentation: New Face of Homelessness.

Foreclosures, unemployment rates and lack of job opportunities have left communities nationwide devastated with an increase of homelessness.

According to the presentation, Florida ranked third highest nationally in the number of homeless individuals in 2012. With 54,300 homeless individuals, Florida is just short of New York's 63,445 and California's 135,928 homeless people.

Manatee and Sarasota counties contribute to homelessness in Florida. Based on Point in Time Census taken for the night of Jan. 27, 2013, the region had 2,054 homeless people.

Homelessness brings on many complications to the community besides leaving thousounds of people without a sustainable living environment.

Overcrowded schools, traffic congestion and parking problems; increases in crime; residents concerned about property value decreasing; and increases in the numbers of children and teens on the street are all results of homelessness, according to the presentation.

In Manatee County, 1,684 students enrolled in Manatee County schools are currently homeless, according to Suncoast Partnership To

End Homelessness.

The trauma of being homeless is incredibly grueling, according to Thomas.

"Children who grow up in these situations are impacted mentally," Thomas said. "Just imagine living in the conditions that they do. It's heartbreaking."

As crime goes up, damage done to innocent homeless people increases as well.

The Point in Time Census taken in January showed nearly 30 percent of homeless people that were surveyed said they were victims of domestic violence.

"Homeless people have been attacked and beaten and they are everywhere, sadly," said Leslie Loveless, executive director at Suncoast Partnership To End Homelessness in Bradenton.

While preventing homelessness is almost impossible since everyone has a different case, finding a solution to stop the issue seems more managable.

"We need more affordable supportive housing," Thomas said.

Shelters and camps are just not enough to sustain homeless individuals since they are limited to how long they can stay there. Having more affordable housing in the community can help individuals at risk of being homeless.

The average rent for a one-bedroom apartment in Manatee county is $803, according to the presentation.

Participants in the presentation believe that if the county offers more affordable housing, families with lower incomes can have roofs over their heads instead of being left out on the streets.

"There is no one model to solve the homeless issue but affordable housing is deffinitely a key idea to consider," Loveless said.

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