City of Sarasota continues to have the highest number of homeless overall among the municipalities in the Point-in-Time survey
Although the Suncoast Partnership to End Homelessness reported that 270 more people were homeless in Sarasota and Manatee counties in late January of this year compared to the same period in 2015, the nonprofit organization says the figures for veterans show the smallest increase, while those for families with children were slightly lower.
The latter statistics, the Partnership says in its 2016 Point-in-Time Community Report — which was released last week — are “a reflection of the community’s strong commitment to prioritizing these two groups. That commitment, [along] with Federal, State, County and [nonprofit] Foundation funding, has allowed our providers to more quickly move people from homelessness to housing.”
The report says that overall, 201 more homeless individuals were counted in Manatee County and 69 in Sarasota County on the night of Jan. 25 this year, compared to late January 2015.
The total for the two counties this year was 1,468; of those, 664 were unsheltered. Sarasota County had 971, or 66.14 percent, of the homeless people; in Manatee, the number was 497.
The City of Sarasota had the highest count among municipalities — 817, which represented 55.65 percent of the homeless population. Bradenton was in second place, with 474.
Nonetheless, the Sarasota city manager told the City Commission this week that he and his staff are hearing fewer complaints about homeless people, and other statistical data show improvements in the situation.
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development requires that continuums of care — such as the Suncoast Partnership — undertake the annual Point-in-Time survey.
“The population that remains our biggest challenge,” the Suncoast Partnership notes in the 2016 Executive Summary, “is the adult population without children,” which made up 92 percent of the total people counted. “Services for this demographic are more fragmented and less intensive,” the document explains. That group comprises more than 311 chronically homeless individuals, the Executive Summary adds; that figure has risen over the past six years. During the January 2009 count, it was 125.
The total number of children counted this year was 178, or 12.13 percent of the total.
More than two-thirds of the individuals were males — 989 — compared to 478 females. One person included in the count was transgendered, the report says.
The predominant race is white, the report notes, with 1,154 of those individuals counted, representing 78.61 percent of the total. African Americans comprised the next largest group: 267, or 18.19 percent.
In regard to physical well being, the document says 820 people reported that they had a disabling condition. More than 50 percent said they were addicted to drugs or alcohol, while 21.81 percent said they had mental health problems, the report notes.
In response to the question, “Where did you stay last night?” 664 chose the category, “Place not meant for habitation.” Another 419 were in an emergency shelter or using motel vouchers, while the remaining 385 were in transitional housing for the homeless.
The top reason cited for homelessness was “Employment/financial reasons.” The total number reporting that factor was 573. Another 326 said medical problems or disabilities had led to their situations.
City Commission discussion
A discussion during the City Commission’s regular meeting on April 18 led to City Manager Tom Barwin mentioning the Point-in-Time figures. “We’ll be scrubbing that data to really understand what it is saying to us,” he told the board. (See the related story in this issue.)
Members of the Sarasota Police Department’s Homeless Outreach Teams (HOT) also will review the figures, Barwin noted.
However, citing figures provided by the Sarasota County Fire Department, Barwin added that during the past year, Emergency Medical Services calls to assist homeless individuals in the city were down 5.5 percent. Moreover, he said, Resurrection House has recorded “a rather significant drop” in the number of homeless people using its services each day, such as laundry facilities. The figure has declined from 225 to 175, Barwin told the commissioners.
“We’re seeing less chronically homeless activity on the streets,” Barwin added, with “complaints down dramatically.”
Barwin attributed the declines to the HOT teams and the work of The Salvation Army to assist homeless people.
In response to a question, Barwin said the staff of the Community Foundation of Sarasota County is continuing to work with the anonymous donor of $1 million to assist the city in establishing a Housing First initiative.
When Commissioner Susan Chapman asked how long it would be before the city’s pilot housing program could begin, Barwin replied, “We haven’t received any specifics yet [from the Foundation].”