Florida's homeless: 55,000 people & 5,800 shelter beds/report FWD

Tom Boland (wgcp@earthlink.net)
Sun, 10 May 1998 14:52:08 -0700 (PDT)

FWD Published Saturday, May 9, 1998, in the Miami Herald

Report: 55,000 homeless in Florida

                 By JACKIE HALLIFAX
                 Associated Press

TALLAHASSEE -- If all of Florida's homeless lined up for a single soup
kitchen, they would stretch from Orlando to Jacksonville, a state official
said Friday as he released the latest report on homelessness in Florida.

That's 55,000 people and 140 miles.

Comer Ward, an 88-year-old man who said he was one of the best barbers in
Orlando for 40 years, is one of them.

He stays at The Shelter in Tallahassee. He's one of the lucky ones --
Florida has only 5,800 beds in 146 homeless shelters around the state.

``This place has really been good to me,'' Ward told reporters, adding that
he wouldn't sleep in the woods because it was too dangerous.

But many people are sleeping in the woods and other places.

When The Shelter wanted to get an estimate of the number of homeless people
in and around Florida's capital city, it visited 88 different sites ``at
campsites in wooded areas or in abandoned buildings and occasionally in
cemeteries,'' said Mel Eby, director of The Shelter.

The report released Friday was based on estimates from 20 coalitions
representing more than 1,200 private groups that help the homeless. The
period of the report was from July 1996 through last June.

The estimate of homeless dropped slightly from 57,850 a year earlier. But
the report cautioned that the decrease may not reflect an actual drop in
the number of homeless people but rather a change in the way homeless are

Until last year, the department used a statewide formula to estimate the
number of homeless based on figures supplied by the state's 20 coalitions.
The latest report includes just the numbers supplied by the 20 coalitions,
which don't cover the entire state.

Three of Florida's most populous counties -- Miami-Dade, Broward and Orange
-- reported no increase in the homeless population. Duval County reported a
3 percent increase.

Ed Feaver, secretary of the Department of Children and Families, cautioned
that the homeless figures are conservative.

``As a society, we have failed to adequately invest in human services,
particularly in community mental health and substance abuse treatment and
follow-on care. Homelessness is one of the consequences,'' Feaver said.

More than a third of third of the homeless people are families. That means
on any given day 19,250 parents and children are living on the streets or
in the woods. Feaver said it was too soon to tell if welfare reform has
made families homeless.

About two-thirds of Florida's homeless are new to the streets and nearly a
quarter are mentally ill. About four out of 10 suffer from alcoholism and
drug addiction.

``If people with mental illness or substance abuse problems have no family
to turn to, they often wind up living on the streets,'' Feaver said.
``While state and federal dollars help to ease the plight of the homeless,
the majority of the burden falls to communities, churches and civic

Other statistics about Florida's homeless:

*a quarter are veterans;

*more than a third are employed, mostly on a periodic or part-time basis;

*three-quarters are Floridians;

*13 percent are disabled and 8 percent are elderly.


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