On a rainy Jan. 27, about 200 volunteers set out to count how many homeless people there were on the streets of Orange, Osceola and Seminole Counties for the annual Point in Time count.
The event’s intent is to capture exactly what the state of homelessness is in an area and figure out what authorities need to be focusing on to help end homelessness.
The results won’t be available until late February, but Andrae Bailey, the CEO and President of the Central Florida Commission on Homelessness, said some things have already improved since the last one. Last year, there were 2,112 homeless people on the streets, and in 2014, there were 2,254. In 2013, that number was almost doubled, with 4,378. The reason for that according to Bailey is honing in on specific problem areas.
“We have less veterans on our streets,” he said. “And less chronic homelessness. That means you’ve been homeless for more than a year and have some kind of disability.”
In the future, Bailey said he thought the Commission would need to start more work on expanding help for veterans not covered by existing programs that aim to house veterans with disabilities, such as the Housing and Urban Development-Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing (HUD-VASH) program.
The focus of such programs, he said, can be too narrow and exclude many veterans who don’t qualify as disabled but still need help.
In addition, he said there needs to be more work done on getting options for homeless families.
Heather Fagan, Chief of Staff with Mayor Buddy Dyer‘s office, said the city has been working to switch from transitional housing to permanent housing as a solution for homelessness.
“The traditional wisdom was a transition program, where you bring someone off the streets and ‘fix’ them,” Fagan said. “Then they graduated the program, and a lot of them would go back to the streets.”
Now, she said, the City of Orlando is adopting recommended federal practices, including more extensive programs involving assigning social workers and helping homeless people get apartments, sign leases and work to obtain disability services, Medicare and food stamps.
Fagan said the City of Orlando’s use of these practices was too recent to document any hard stats, but that she had seen an improvement already.
“Permanent housing helps them feel more in control,” she said of the homeless.
Bailey addressed the increased focus on permanent housing as well. To Bailey, this represented real change, and a more direct way of making a difference.
“All these programs are about housing,” Bailey said. “Not just feeding and clothing the homeless, but actually getting them into houses.”
Of the 2,112 homeless individuals on the streets of Orange, Osceola and Seminole counties last year, there were 1,321 men and 790 women, according to the PIT count from 2015. Numbers of the homeless with mental disabilities, HIV/AIDS or who had come from domestic violence situations were in the hundreds.
The domestic violence number came out to 278, higher than any of the other categories.
Fagan said that number counts victims of domestic violence staying in shelters — they aren’t all out on the streets. Permanent housing programs help victims of domestic violence, too, she said, giving them a place to stay as an alternative to a shelter or going back to their abusers.
The city has no reason not to want to solve homelessness, Fagan said — and in fact, it’s cost-effective to help end it.
“There are studies that show cost analysis,” she said. “It’s $30,000 for a person to be out on the street, and it costs less to get them in housing.”