Number of homeless people in city of Sarasota dropped by more than 200 from 2016 to this year, but overall county total declined by only about half that much

Point-in-Time survey was conducted on Jan. 23

Homeless people gather in Five Points Park in downtown Sarasota in August 2016. Image courtesy City of Sarasota

The total number of homeless people in the city of Sarasota fell by more than 200 from 2016 to 2017, while the number in the unincorporated parts of Sarasota County rose by 109, the Suncoast Partnership to End Homelessness has reported.

The figures came from the federally mandated Point-in-Time survey, which was conducted on the night of Jan. 23.

In Sarasota County, the number of homeless families dropped slightly, from 55 to 50.

Altogether, the total for Sarasota County was 877, compared to 971 in 2016, the data show. In Manatee County, the total climbed from 497 in 2016 to 570 this year.

The figures are based on surveys taken by volunteers seeking individuals’ housing status and on shelter data from the same night, Edward DeMarco, interim executive director of the Partnership, wrote in a summary of the findings.

For the two counties, the number of homeless veterans was down from 161 to 149, while the number of chronically homeless individuals decreased from 311 to 285, according to the report. The figure for homeless youth remained the same year-over-year, at 121, the data show.

The Point-in-Time count “represents a ‘best effort’ to find and survey any and all of those who are on the street, in shelters, in transitional housing or otherwise literally homeless,” DeMarco wrote.

Two changes in the methodology for 2017, he continued, “may have contributed to a greater percentage of persons who were homeless being successfully surveyed [this year].” First, DeMarco noted, the number of questions was reduced from 24 to 13, and the questions themselves were modified. “Only those questions required by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) were included,” he pointed out. They targeted “only the literally homeless by definition,” he added. “While this seems to have increased the percentage of complete and verifiable surveys,” DeMarco noted, “reducing the data collection questions eliminated some of the demographic data that was available in previous surveys.”

The report shows this breakdown of the data. Image courtesy Suncoast Partnership to End Homelessness

The second change, he continued, related to the count of those who were sheltered on Jan. 23. This year, he wrote, only the data stored in the Homeless Management Information System (HMIS) was included.

On the night of the survey, he pointed out, more than 300 people were in transitional housing projects; they are counted as homeless according to HUD’s guidelines for the survey.

Although DeMarco noted “modest improvements in the numbers for veterans, families and the chronically homeless,” he emphasized that the figure for youth with no permanent housing remained the same from 2016 to this year.

Moreover, he continued, “Despite the fact that more than 1,000 persons were assisted by local community organizations and agencies and found permanent stable housing, our overall count did not move significantly. New persons found themselves homeless for the first time, and many more returned to homelessness after being unable to sustain housing.”

Sarasota City Manager Tom Barwin noted the results of the Point-in-Time survey when he offered his remarks during the April 2017 City Commission meeting. The count in the city was down about 32% year-over-year, he told the board. “That is good news.”

He also complimented the Homeless Outreach Teams of the Sarasota Police Department for their efforts to persuade the chronically homeless in the city to accept shelter and available services.

The Suncoast Partnership website explains that the Point-in-Time survey “provides the homeless assistance community with data needed to understand the number and characteristics of persons who are homeless. The surveys are an important metric for measuring Federal and local programs in preventing and ending homelessness.” (See the related story in this issue.)