People are lined up at 'Our Daily Bread' food pantry in Bradenton, and Maureen Mack of Turning Points, a local non-profit that helps the homeless, is giving directions to a group of volunteers for the annual Point-in-Time Count.
"What I'm going to do is ask two of you to start at the front of the line and then two of you watch for them coming out,” she instructs the surveyors, students from LECOM College in Bradenton. “Let’s grab those that we've missed that have already gone in to get their food.”
The annual count provides a snapshot of homelessness on a single night in January and helps determine federal funding. The survey is a set of questions asked of homeless persons and is a requirement of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
To get the tally, HUD works with local observers in each state.
Mack says in addition to determining critical funding, the survey also helps local agencies better recognize specific issues and trends.
"We're seeing more females than we used to have," she said. "It used to be very predominantly male but it's the exact opposite now. So it’s an opportunity not to just go out there and be a bean counter but to reach out to those in need and help us understand what those needs are."
While it is not possible to count every homeless person, the methodology used includes gathering information from people who are in emergency shelters, transitional housing, and in known areas where unsheltered homeless people stay.
According to HUD's 2019 Point-in-Time report, which was released earlier this month, homelessness in Florida is down nearly 9 percent from the previous year. But Hendry, Hardee, and Highland counties had the nation's highest homeless numbers for what the agency designates as "largely rural" communities.
According to The Suncoast Partnership to End Homelessness, the overall number of homeless persons surveyed in Sarasota and Manatee Counties for 2019 was 1,135, down nearly 5% from 2018. In the City of Sarasota, the count was down by 13.7%. The total number for Sarasota County decreased by 8.2% while the Manatee County count is nearly the same as in 2018.