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Officials: Number of homeless people may be on the rise

By Staff | Jan 13, 2009

A new report by the Homelessness Research Institute outlines an improvement in rates of homelessness between 2005 and 2007. According to the report released Tuesday, rates fell by 10 percent over the two-year period, but researchers warn that the recession may reverse these improvements.
From January 2005 to January 2007, the amount of homeless people dropped from 744,313 to 671,859 per night. The report indicated that Florida had 48,069 homeless people living on the streets in 2007 and in the Fort Myers-Cape Coral region there were 2,382.
Local groups such as Community Cooperative Ministries Inc. estimate there are more than 3,000 homeless people in Lee County.
In the report, Lee County had 147 chronically homeless people, or disabled persons who experience homelessness long-term, while 424 were in families with children.
These numbers are down in Lee County since 2005, but experts are worried that the recession and strings of foreclosures may set them back.
“Many Americans are now losing or facing the prospect of losing their homes as both homeowners and renters feel the impact of the foreclosure crisis,” said Deborah DeSantis, president and chief executive officer of the Corporation for Supportive Housing, in a prepared statement.
The Corporation for Supportive Housing created 150,000 units of supportive housing to counteract the staggering number of homeless people in 2002. It cites the general 10 percent decline in homelessness thanks to the effort, but estimates another 90,000 units are needed.
More than half of the homeless population or 1,949 people in Lee County are considered “unsheltered homeless,” meaning that they live on the streets. Across the United States some 42 percent of the homeless population was unsheltered in 2007.
“Millions more Americans are likely to fall into deep poverty in the coming months as a result of rising unemployment and declining state and local funding for safety net programs that assist people who are unable to find work,” said DeSantis.
Fred Schilffarth, director of Homeless Services at the Community Cooperative Ministries, said the numbers may have decreased two years ago, but they have certainly climbed back up in 2008. The organization is conducting a homeless survey at the end of January.
“When we finish our survey we will probably see a 50 percent increase in homelessness in Lee County,” said Schilffarth.
CCMI’s soup kitchen provides food to anyone who comes to lunch at its facility on Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard in Fort Myers. It serves 150 people per day on average.
“We’ve seen traffic double in the last six months,” said Schilffarth. “People who would never have eaten in the soup kitchen are considering it because they lost their job or home.”
Schilffarth said that most of the local residents visiting CCMI are “at-risk,” meaning that they were renters who have been evicted because of foreclosure.
The full report is available with The National Alliance to End Homelessness at: www.endhomelessness.org.