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Study shows 3,768 local kids are homeless

Mark Parker



Angelo is among the many homeless residents who congregate in Williams Park. Photo by Mark Parker.

The Homeless Leadership Alliance (HLA) of Pinellas County recently released results from a study that’s critical to understanding the local unsheltered population and meeting their needs.

Dr. Monica Alesnik, CEO of the HLA, said the Point in Time Count (PIT) highlights that homelessness is “a serious and concerning problem” in Pinellas. Over 300 volunteers combed streets, parks and shelters on a single night in January to provide a snapshot of an often-disregarded demographic.

Alesnik said the study shows that financial struggles, domestic issues and disabilities fuel the area’s persistently high rates of individual, veteran and family homelessness. While the overall count remained consistent with 2022’s, she noted that Pinellas County Schools (PCS) officials reported students are increasingly experiencing life on the street.

“Having 3,768 students – children – lacking stable housing is a staggering statistic that should bring anyone who hears it to a halt,” Alesnik emphasized. “Unfortunately, it was not a surprising number to those of us serving Pinellas County’s most vulnerable residents.”

She added that over 100 families await open shelter space on “any given day.” Alesnik explained that those children often live in places “not meant for human habitation.”

In addition, she said school data shows that more kids are now “doubling up” or “coach surfing” in shared housing – likely due to the pandemic. Many others sleep in cars.

About 4% of all PCS students experience homelessness. The majority – 1,555 – are Black.

A heat map showing the county’s unsheltered homeless population. Screengrab.

While the HLA and its volunteers counted 2,144 homeless residents, they did not include the 3,768 students and 675 inmates in the official total. Those demographics do not meet the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s (HUD) definition of homelessness, Alesnik explained.

“It is important to note that while 3,768 Pinellas County students lack stable housing, the other members of their households, such as siblings and guardians, are also facing this reality,” she added.

The school data is accumulated throughout the year rather than on one night and includes students in shared housing. Inmate statistics rely on self-reporting, and 25% of the jail population lacked a permanent residence on the night of the count.

Another new trend is the increasing number of homeless females and those identifying as Black or African American in emergency shelters. Of the 1,498 sheltered homeless, 38% were female, and 44% were Black.

Most unsheltered residents surveyed stayed in St. Petersburg and Clearwater city limits.

Alesnik said the primary cause of local homelessness is a lack of affordable, accessible housing. She noted that most subsidized developments have waitlists that extend for years, and it is now difficult to find even moderately priced homes.

A chart showing the reasons why someone lost their home. Screengrab.

Although the 99-page report highlights harrowing statistics, Alesnik said it also shows “change is possible.” Its author, T. Freeman Gerhardt, offered 13 recommendations.

Those include utilizing “plainclothes” officers when conducting the survey; soliciting needs from those with lived experiences; creating a user-friendly database to publish information; and fostering partnerships across municipal boundaries.

“Each of the 13 recommendations made by the report’s author holds significance,” Alesnik said “That being said, the recommendations regarding advocacy, community outreach and involving individuals who have experienced homelessness in all aspects of the crisis response system may be the most urgent.”

HLA submitted the data to HUD and the Florida Department of Children and Families for review. Alesnik said it would influence policy and funding decisions at every governmental level.

The Pinellas Continuum of Care (CoC) – a group of local officials, service providers, people who have experienced homelessness and concerned neighbors – will also utilize the report.

Dr. Monica Alesnik, CEO of the Homeless Leadership Alliance.

Alesnik said it would help the CoC evaluate program effectiveness; enhance or create initiatives; advocate for safe, affordable, accessible and desirable housing; reduce stigmas; improve public perceptions; create or renew partnerships; engage stakeholders; and encourage community members to help end homelessness.

“Our community faces incredible challenges, but solutions are possible,” Alesnik said. “With a strong, knowledgeable and engaged coalition advocating and planning for change, we can achieve ‘Functional Zero,’ effectively ending homelessness in Pinellas County.”

To read the Point in Time Count report, visit the link here.






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1 Comment

1 Comment

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    S. Rose Smith-Hayes

    July 23, 2023at4:50 pm

    Landlords are out of control with rent increases an efficiency 511 sq ft is $855.00 a monthecto rent. In 2019 that was the cost for a 1 bedroom apartment.Greed is the driver?????

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