And the number of homeless people in Lee County is growing. That’s according to new statistics released by the Lee County Homeless Coalition, which is an advocacy group who’s goal it is to ensure that homelessness is rare, brief, and one-time.
Once per year the Coalition in partnership with Lee County Human and Veterans Services, and many volunteers, conducts a Point in Time census to count the homeless and provide data to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
The PIT count is also used to gather the information that allows local service providers to target services to meet the specific needs of the homeless.
The PIT count, which asked people where they slept the night of January 26, 2022, included both sheltered and unsheltered homeless individuals and families. The count documented 560 homeless people, of whom forty-seven (8.39%) were chronically homeless according to the HUD definition. HUD defines chronic homelessness as “an unaccompanied adult homeless individual with a disabling condition who has either continuously been homeless for a year or more or has had at least four episodes of homelessness in the past three years.”
Among the 560 were forty-nine families with eighty-six children. There were 24 veterans recorded in the PIT count, 21 of which were active in a Rapid Rehousing program working with a case manager to obtain housing.
The report did not break down the numbers by specific areas within Lee County. However, at a recent Fort Myers Beach Public Safety committee meeting, which was held with the beach churches that help the homeless, the committee was told there were about 12 people that were homeless on the beach, many who were known to the local churches. Beach Baptist Pastor Shawn Critser updated that number to 15 for us yesterday.
The total number of people estimated to be homeless in Lee County on the single night of January 26, 2022, was an increase from 2020 and 2021, which had 444 and 394 respectively. The lower estimate in 2021 is reflective of a modified counting methodology due to the pandemic.
In addition to the change in methodology, the current economic conditions in the County have contributed to the increased estimates in 2022.
Lee County Homeless Coalition Executive Director Therese Everly tells Beach Talk Radio News the robust real estate market has increased the value of rental properties and the rental rates and that’s part of the problem with the growing numbers.”I receive calls weekly from individuals, that state their landlords have sold the properties and their leases will not be renew. Some are offered to renew at the increased market rent, I received a call from a single mom with a 12year old child, the rented a duplex in Lehigh Acres for the last 2years, she paid $900 month, the landlord was increasing the rent to $1,500. She was not going to be able to afford to stay, this was going to be her first time homeless.
Housing and service programs for the homeless are provided in part through Continuum of Care funds from HUD. The 2021 Continuum of Care funding announcements were made in March 2022. Lee County was awarded funding to sustain existing programs and begin new programs that provide housing and services to persons experiencing homelessness. These programs are operated by Lee County Human and Veterans Services, Community Assisted and Supported Living, Lee County Housing Development Corporation, Jewish Family and Children Services, Saint Vincent de Paul, Goodwill Industries of SWFL, and The Salvation Army. The total awarded amount was $2,046,670.