MANATEE -- The 24-hour "Point-in-Time" survey of the homeless in Manatee and Sarasota ended at noon Tuesday and local agencies now have lots of data to process, local officials said.
It's too early to tell if the homeless population in Manatee and Sarasota counties will rise or fall from last year's count of 724 homeless in Manatee and 1,365 in Sarasota, said Leslie Loveless, executive director of Suncoast Partnership to End Homelessness, which, along with Turning Points in Bradenton, sent about 110 volunteers to about 100 locations in the two counties to count the homeless.
"We won't be anywhere near having numbers for the next month or two," Loveless said. "We have to read the forms really carefully."
Turning Points' volunteers were trekking to sites where homeless people might stay and finding them, said Turning Points' development director Margi Dawson, who grabbed a clipboard and went out to survey homeless people on Tuesday.
"I just really think this year, hopefully, we have a lot of data to process," Dawson said. "We had more volunteers. Things were better organized. There was more training for volunteers and it seemed like we had more volunteers on the street trying to count the homeless. In my experience, everyone was pretty nice and pretty much every one I asked answered the survey. They were willing to help."
The U.S. government depends on agencies like Suncoast Partnership to conduct the count and gives them until May to report the data, but Suncoast should be able to release numbers by the end of March, Loveless said.
"The cold weather made it challenging for our volunteers and I'm sure for the homeless," Loveless said. "We found that some of the homeless camps had sustained damage, but our volunteers were finding homeless people."
While numbers were not available, some homeless people told volunteer census takers that since it's so cold in the area lately, they need more emergency shelters.
Both counties have Salvation Army shelters and churches and other homeless houses, but sleeping quarters can get filled on a cold night. On a warm night it may cost $10 at the Salvation Army, Loveless said.
"There seem not to be enough options for people out there," Loveless said.
There has been talk for years of a large "come as you are" type shelter in Sarasota County that would not cost anything, Loveless said.
Sarasota County has set aside the funds for such a shelter but there has been no action because people do not want it in their neighborhoods, Loveless said.
"They haven't been able to site it anywhere," Loveless said.
Like many who hope to see homelessness eradicated, Loveless thinks the best solution is not shelters, but affordable housing and care and treatment of the homeless, but she adds that "emergency shelters are a step in the right direction."
Adell Erozer, executive director of Turning Points, on Tuesday said she agreed with Loveless that affordable housing is the best solution to solving the homeless problem.
"We can't seem to find landlords in Manatee County willing to rent to a single mom or a family for $800 a month, which is about what they can afford," Erozer said. "A single mom can't afford $1,200 a month, which is what apartments are going for in Manatee County. It's a landlord's market."
There is federally-subsidized housing in Manatee County, but there is a two-year waiting list for most of it, Erozer said.
"We need people to come together and make a plan for the low-income population," Erozer said. "Other communities have done it. There are places that have little houses built to be rentals."
Erozer, who spends the bulk of her time pursuing grants to help the needy through her agency, says there are tax credits, state and federal money and other funds on the table for Manatee if a plan could be put in place.
Erozer said Manatee County needs an affordable housing person.
"You have to have someone working full time on that," Erozer said. " And when you finally have permanent housing for them, you will also want to have wrap around service, like counseling, case management, in other words, someone helping them with the services they need."
Richard Dymond, Herald reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7072 or contact him via Twitter@RichardDymond.