[Hpn] Census figures on S. Florida homeless are misleading, activists say;10/31/01
Morgan W. Brown
Thu, 01 Nov 2001 14:40:25 -0500
Wednesday, October 31, 2001
South Florida Sun-Sentinel <http://www.sun-sentinel.com>
Local News section
Census figures on S. Florida homeless are misleading, activists say
By Victor Greto And Lisa J. Huriash
Posted October 31, 2001
In their the one-bedroom apartment, the youngest, 2, sleeps in a crib.
The other four children share two single beds. Mary Escribano and her
husband sleep on the living room couch while socks and underwear dry from a
clothesline that runs across the ceiling.
Escribano and her husband, a construction worker who broke his leg and was
unable to work, have been living in a local church-sponsored transitional
housing program at Lakeside Apartments in Fort Lauderdale for two weeks.
“Maybe we’ll be here for one month, two months, maybe three months,”
Escribano said as she fussed with her children.
The plight of South Florida’s homeless families, like their numbers, is only
partly shown in the latest Census Bureau release.
The estimate, like a split-second snapshot from a three-hour movie, details
the number of people who used an emergency or transitional shelter during
one night last year. It shows a small decline over the past 10 years in the
number at those shelters in both the country and the state.
Reasons for the decline, experts say, range from the invigorating effect of
the economic boom of the 1990s to the elimination of domestic violence
shelters from the census count.
Almost 7,000 people in Florida used a shelter on the evening of March 27
last year, about 300 fewer than in 1990, the Census reported.
In Broward County, there were 1,009 sheltered homeless. Miami-Dade County
showed 1,621; Palm Beach County, only 226.
Even so, various national and local homeless advocates say the numbers are
misleading and/or irrelevant because the Bureau did not include in this
release a count of the homeless outside of shelters. And the numbers cannot
reflect the number of homeless to come because of the recent downturn in the
Not complete picture
“It’s not the complete picture because the enumerators did not fully
penetrate the homeless population and capture the count,” said Greg Mellowe,
executive director of the Florida Coalition for the Homeless in Orlando.
Mel Goldberg, Broward’s Homeless Service Program director, and Lisa
Margolis, of the Cooperative Feeding Program, which operates a food pantry
and a soup kitchen in Broward County, helped census takers locally by
“compiling the list of sites for unsheltered homeless where they gather:
parks and behind gas stations and different corners.”
But those numbers, Census spokesperson Edison Gore said, were too low to
count separately under the Bureau’s minimum requirements for the release of
Instead, he said, those numbers have been integrated into a release that
tallied non-industrial group quarters, which includes the population in,
among other places, soup kitchens and mental hospitals.
Even the current release includes only places that registered at least 100
In Broward County, that includes Fort Lauderdale, at 356, and Hollywood, at
302. The largest city in Florida with the most sheltered homeless was Miami,
at 822; second was Orlando, at 579, followed by Fort Lauderdale and
Hollywood. No city in Palm Beach County made the list, but the area that
includes West Palm Beach and Boca Raton accounted for all that county’s 226
Goldberg said anecdotally he knows the number of homeless families is on the
“I think there’s been an increase in homeless families the last couple years
because of the general economic conditions, layoffs and especially now
there’s a lot of hotel layoffs and tourism-related layoffs,” he said. “We’re
noticing an increase in the past couple of months.”
Officials also point to studies that show the number of homeless children
enrolled in the schools has grown from 375 in 1992 to 1,423 last year.
Sean Cononie, who runs a homeless shelter in Hollywood, said the effects of
the recent terrorist attacks have been shown at local shelters.
Though he said the numbers of homeless he’s noticed in the past five years
has remained stable, “I’ve noticed new faces recently. I think it’s going to
get worse because of Sept. 11. Some of our girls work at the Fort Lauderdale
airport; they were out of work for up to six weeks. Most Americans are two
paychecks away from being homeless.”
Steve Werthman, Broward’s Homeless Initiative Partnership administrator,
said the Broward Coalition for the Homeless conducted a survey last year
that indicated 7,165 homeless adults and children in the county, including
4,035 in sheltered or temporary housing (the number of beds in the county’s
shelters), and 3,130 on the streets.
Mary Escribano said she has a dream: a nice house where the children can
have their own beds and a back yard to play in.
“We need room,” she said, “but I say, ‘Thank you, Lord’ because we need this
[help],” she said.
“There are so many families like this on the cusp,” said Fred Scarbrough,
the lay pastor at Shepherd’s Way, which sponsors the transitional housing
program at Lakeside.
“It takes one thing to go wrong — they lose a paycheck , they cannot afford
their rent and they’re then homeless.”
Victor Greto can be reached at email@example.com or 954-385-7912. Lisa
Huriash can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 954-356-4557. Staff
writer Robin Benedick contributed to this report..
Place Population Shelter population % of total population
U.S. 281,421,906 170,706 0.06%
Florida 15,982,378 6,766 0.04%
Broward 1,623,018 1,009 0.06%
Miami-Dade 2,253,362 1,621 0.07%
Palm Beach 1,131,184 226 0.02%
S. Florida 5,007,564 2,856 0.06%
**In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. section 107, this
material is distributed without charge or profit to
those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving
this type of information for non-profit research and
educational purposes only.**
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Morgan W. Brown
Montpelier Vermont USA
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