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Of Manatee's 724 homeless, 676 now reside in downtown Bradenton

MANATEE -- A recent count of Manatee County's homeless shows 724 people, of which 676, or 93.6 percent, are living on the streets -- that's down significantly from last year.

These statistics, from a survey just released by the Suncoast Partnership to End Homelessness, come with a footnote, Suncoast officials said Tuesday.

The volunteers who made the count Jan. 26 could not find all of Manatee County's homeless camps -- based on the number of camps there have been, said Leslie Loveless, executive director of the Suncoast Partnership to End Homelessness.

A Salvation Army official Tuesday said developers and the county government have dissolved the camps.

"The homeless camps in Manatee County have seemed to move," Loveless said. "We don't know if there are more homeless in camps that used

to be identifiable but are no longer there."

In 2014, census takers counted 1,069 homeless people, Loveless said. Local providers believe this year's counts are off.

Christine Smith of the Salvation Army said Tuesday the survey statistics don't reflect what they are seeing.

"To us not at all," said Smith, the director of community relations and development. "If anything, we are seeing a continued increase in the number of people seeking services. I would definitely say more than any other segment or group we see a great need as far as families go."

The Salvation Army has an emergency shelter for women and children with five rooms restricted for moms and children. Those five rooms operate at capacity 100 percent of the time, Smith said.

On any given night, the Salvation Army can have an additional 20 women and children sleeping on mats on the floor because they don't have enough beds, Smith said.

Smith said some homeless people may have not wanted to participate in the survey.

"I think it's important to remember they may not have captured the entire population," Smith said. "Our volunteers help them with that survey and there are a lot of people who do not want to report or are not willing to take the survey."

The number of homeless camps has dropped, leaving people on their own, Smith said.

"Code enforcement is cracking down on the camps so they can't find large groups in one location," Smith said. "We are hearing ... places that were camps are not available now. A lot of places that were camps are now being developed."

The definition the Suncoast Partnership uses for homelessness is people who are living in emergency shelters, hotels paid for by a charity or transitional housing that is not guaranteed; and those who are living and sleeping in cars, parks and campgrounds, abandoned buildings, airports, bus and train stations and other unsafe areas, Loveless said.

Of the 724 homeless, 162 identified themselves as chronically homeless, which means homeless four times in the past three years or having a disability, Loveless said.

On a single night every year volunteers with the Suncoast Partnership go out in the Sarasota and Manatee communities to count the homeless. These numbers are based on that night's tally.

"They meet face to face and interview them and try to learn more about their status and why they are homeless," Loveless said.

The volunteers counted 1,365 homeless in Sarasota, bringing to two-county total to 2,089, Loveless said.

In 2014, Sarasota had 1,163 and, with Manatee's 1,069, it brought the total to 2,232.

"What I would say about the actual number is that this is an accurate count of the people we actually met face to face that night and we are never able to count everyone," Loveless said. "So when you talk about 724 homeless on a single night of the year that is still a lot of people and 162 being chronically homeless is a significant number as well."

Richard Dymond, Herald reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7072 or contact him via Twitter@RichardDymond.

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