BRADENTON -- Lawrence and Andrea looked a bit dazed and their children, Kira, 5, and Nadia, 1, looked healthy but tired.
The family was sitting on chairs inside Turning Points at noon Monday, having come to Manatee County's not-for-profit source for the needy to see if they could get emergency housing and not spend Monday night sleeping in their mini-van.
"Are you homeless?" Lawrence was asked.
"Yes," he replied, the reality seeming to sink all the way in.
Lawrence and Andrea, who did not wish to reveal their last names, were two of hundreds of homeless people interviewed Monday by about 110 volunteers from Turning Points and Suncoast Partnership to End Homelessness at 100 sites in Manatee and Sarasota. It marked the launch of the 2016 "Point-in-Time Homeless Survey."
Although the final tally of homeless for both counties won't be available for a week or so, Leslie Loveless, executive director of Suncoast Partnership to End Homelessness, said her gut feeling was that the number of homeless in Manatee would be higher than in 2015, which dropped to 724 after a count of 1,069 in 2014.
Sarasota County had 1,365 homeless in 2015, up from 1,163 in from 2014, according to Suncoast Partnership to End Homelessness.
"Unfortunately, we will probably be higher in Manatee," Loveless said. "Optimistically, we will not get that much worse."
The statistics were meaningless to Lawrence and Andrea, who moved to Jacksonville a month or so ago from Manatee with the hopes of starting a new life at Lawrence's sister's house.
Things didn't work out and Lawrence and Andrea drove back to Bradenton "on fumes" and begged for money for a hotel room Sunday night.
"It's a shock," said Lawrence. "We've never been homeless before."
Lawrence is an information technology specialist but hasn't been able to find steady work, he said. Andrea is a stay-at-home mom.
"We just ran out of money," Lawrence said. "I know you are supposed to have a cushion. But we just couldn't keep it."
Grants help some
Last year, Suncoast Partnership to End Homelessness, which is a clearinghouse for Manatee and Sarasota homeless services money, received $2.6 million in federal grants that were partly based on the survey's final tabulation of 2,089 homeless in Manatee and Sarasota combined, Loveless said.
On top of the federal money, Suncoast received about $10.4 million in private donations, bringing its total 2015 revenue to $13 million.
"We are required to give all of that money to local agencies working on homeless services," Loveless said.
Turning Points received two federal Emergency Solutions Grants in 2015 through Suncoast to help prevent homelessness, one for $124,581 and one for $76,598.
As for Lawrence and Andrea, they may be able to take advantage of the Emergency Solutions Grants. But there are some hoops to jump through.
"They said if we provide a bank statement and verify our identity and show we are actively looking for work, we might be able to find a place that will work with this grant," Lawrence said. "There is a possibility the grant will pay our first month's rent and deposit. But that will take between two and six weeks before we find out if we get it.
"At least for most of that time, we expect to be sleeping in our van," Lawrence said.
Loveless said the guidelines of the grant are strict, but agencies have found by experience that just giving people money doesn't work.
"The results are better when they have a case worker and sit down and work out a plan," Loveless said.
As far as the more than $10 million in private donations through Suncoast in 2015, Turning Points got $951,211 to lead all Manatee agencies. The Salvation Army of Manatee got $732,314, Goodwill Manasota received $51,765 and Manatee Community Action Agency received $16,000, Loveless said.
The biggest awards were to the Salvation Army of Sarasota with $3.6 million, Catholic Charities with $2.3 million and Community Foundation of Sarasota with $1.6 million, Loveless said.
The survey's guidelines require Turning Points and Suncoast to send their clipboard-carrying volunteers out into the community from noon Monday through noon Tuesday, everywhere from the Salvation Army of Manatee County to the Manatee County Public Library, to homeless camps deep in the woods and in abandoned buildings.
The Manatee County jail also takes its own count, Loveless said.
The volunteers hope the homeless will answer 23 questions attached to their clipboards -- like how long have you been homeless and what impedes your ability for employment -- that could help the local agencies and the U.S. Housing and Urban Development determine not only how many are homeless in 2016 but what needs they have, said Margi Dawson, a Turning Points' spokeswoman.
"HUD wants to know who is homeless at a point in time so it can compare year to year," Dawson added.
The volunteers don't ask for last names or Social Security numbers, keeping their questions both general and anonymous, Dawson said.
The survey is important because it is used as a basis for future funding in each county, said volunteer Ed Padilla, who has mastered how to broach the subject with the homeless.
"I first ask, 'How are you doing?'" Padilla said. "These are people who are bundled up. You want to talk to them first and ask them where they stayed. Then I tell them the government is doing a survey to determine how many homeless people there are in our county, and the number will impact the funding the county will receive."
Joe Palumbo and Sue Wertman, a volunteer team, say they first gain trust by just getting to know the people they meet on the streets.
"Sometimes the interview ends with them answering our questions and a heartfelt handshake, and sometimes they don't want to talk to us at all," Palumbo said.
Padilla started his day at noon at a homeless camp, and one of the homeless showed him how he spent the night -- in two sleeping bags on top of a table in an abandoned building.
For those wishing to help Lawrence and Andrea and their children, or other homeless in Manatee, call Turning Points at 941-747-1509.
Richard Dymond, Herald reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7072 or contact him via Twitter@RichardDymond.