FL homeless statistic illustration comes up short FWD

Tom Boland (wgcp@earthlink.net)
Tue, 19 May 1998 01:35:43 -0700 (PDT)

FWD  St. Petersburg Times, published May 16, 1998


     By Staff and wire reports

Armed with the latest statistics on Florida's homeless population, state
officials looked for a way to bring the 55,000-person estimate to life.

So the state Department of Children and Families last week envisioned an
imaginary soup kitchen line, with homeless Floridians stretching from
Orlando north 137 miles, all the way to Jacksonville.

The only problem?

That left a whopping 13.15 feet between each person, enough room for at
least another half-dozen people between each of the homeless people "in

After a couple of calls from puzzled newspaper workers and comments from
skeptical readers, department spokeswoman Lisa Hutcheson had two words to
say: "Mea culpa."

The attempt at finding a compelling way to illustrate the new statistics
fell victim to a simple misreading of a state map and its accompanying
mileage-conversion chart, Hutcheson said.

The more realistic example, she said, would be to imagine a line linking
Orlando and Daytona Beach, which are approximately 54 miles apart. The Rand
McNally Standard Highway Mileage Guide confirms the 54-mile distance.

Even that illustration leaves a comfortable 5-foot space between people.

The report released May 8 by the department was based on estimates from 20
coalitions representing more than 1,200 private groups that help homeless
people. The period of the report was from July 1996 through last June.

The estimated total reflected a slight drop 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 in the way they are counted.


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