Homeless coalition estimates 2,714 without homes
The Lee County Homeless Coalition estimates there are 2,714 people without homes in Lee County, a number that is slightly lower than last year’s figures.
However, those numbers are deceiving, as they were taken before the COVID-19 pandemic surged through the country, creating the expectation that next year’s number will likely be higher.
The coalition, with the help of volunteers, conducts a Point in Time census annually to count those who are homeless and provide data to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
The PIT count also is used to gather information that allows local service providers to target services to meet the specific needs of those who are homeless in the community.
The PIT count, which asked people where they slept the night of Jan. 21, included both sheltered and unsheltered homeless individuals and families. It documented 444 homeless persons, of whom 93 were chronically homeless, according to the HUD definition.
Of those people, nearly 40 percent had a disability. There also were 34 families with 76 children, as well as 17 veterans.
Janet Bartos, executive director for the Lee County Homeless Coalition, said they have to do the census in January, since HUD mandates it. The results are due April 30, but with the pandemic, the deadline was extended to June 30.
“The census is very time consuming. You need a lot of volunteers and the surveys have to be entered into the computer system and duplicated,” Bartos said. “We canvassed all over Lee County with the survey and located 444 people, so we knew that every night, we have 444 homeless people.”
The number represents a 19 percent increase from last year, when the PIT counted 372 people.
Bartos agreed that when the census is done next year and the year after, both years will tell a very different story.
“I believe the numbers will be quite different this coming January. With the downturn in the economy, a lot of people are going to need help,” Bartos said. “We anticipate the numbers to go up in January. But with the CARES Act money coming in, they estimate the homeless count will decline by 50 percent in January 2022.”
Data obtained through the Lee County Homeless Management Information System and PIT count found that during the year, an estimated 2,714 people experienced homelessness in Lee County.
The estimate was around 2,800 last year. That number represents the people who came in for services.
Bartos said those who are homeless tend to cluster close by to where there are services, of which there are some in downtown Fort Myers.
Counters also go to places where those who are homeless congregate, such as free meal locations at places like All-Saints Church in North Fort Myers. The people there may be from Fort Myers or even Cape Coral.
“The survey helps us design effective strategies. We need to know where to concentrate our efforts and the population we’re trying to serve. It’s a solid number, the 444; we know there’s not less than that,” Bartos said.
The Lee County Homeless Coalition is an advocacy group made up of individual stakeholders and agencies who are engaged to ensure that homelessness is rare, brief, and one-time.