ENGLEWOOD — Tuesday’s Just Neighbors meeting at St. David’s Episcopal Church served as a humble reminder that the numbers of homeless people in Sarasota and Charlotte counties are growing.
“Activity has increased,” said Pat Knox, outreach minister of St. David’s. “People are struggling. It’s better that we take care of the homeless here where we can provide than when they’re stealing from our neighborhoods.”
Counting the homeless is not so easy.
Knox recently took a census of homeless people in the Sarasota County portion of Englewood.
“I’ve counted 21 in Englewood on the Sarasota end,” Knox said. “They’re at least the ones who were willing to be counted. I know there are easily (at least) 50 in Englewood. I know of 17 at the food pantry I haven’t been able to reach.”
Knox says she only had one day to take a count, and one of the main reasons why the number may be low is the lack of advertising.
Twenty-seven people attended the Just Neighbors meeting. Just Neighbors is a consortium of individuals and organizations in Englewood that help the homeless.
According to the Charlotte County Homeless Coalition, there were 722 registered homeless in Charlotte County in 2012, compared with 1,017 in 2011. The 2012 study counted only homeless people living in shelters, whereas in previous years, other homeless were considered as well.
Homelessness has been on the rise since 2010, according to the Suncoast Partnership to End Homelessness in Sarasota. There were 4,106 homeless in Sarasota County in 2012, of which 883, or 22 percent, lived in South County. There were 3,985 homeless in 2011, of which 617, or 15 percent, lived in South County.
Mike Riley, spokesman for Charlotte County Public Schools, reports 338 homeless students currently registered, compared with 383 for the 2011-2012 school year.
As of December in Sarasota County, there were 360 registered homeless students, compared with 925 reported in the previous school year, according to Ellen McLaughlin, contracted homeless liaison for Schoolhouse Link for the Sarasota YMCA.
“When you’re a father and you can’t provide for your children, sometimes you have to do things you wouldn’t normally do,” said Wendy Beam, a volunteer for Project Phoenix (an Englewood organization that helps families who have lost everything), who attended the meeting. “But just because you’re homeless doesn’t mean you’re a criminal. Some are homeless by choice, and there are a lot of organizations in the area who can help.”
The federal definition of homeless includes people who live with family and friends for temporary hardship.The definition is based on the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act of 2009. For more information, go to portal. hud.gov/hudportal/documents/ huddoc?id=HAAA_HEARTH.pdf.
Homeless in Sarasota County
— Source: Suncoast Partnership to End Homelessness in Sarasota
Homeless in Charlotte County
— Source: Charlotte County Homeless Coalition
*Only the homeless living in shelters were counted in Charlotte County in 2012. Numbers in 2010 and 2011 include homeless living in shelters and other places.