The organization that coordinates services for the homeless in Duval, Clay and Nassau counties is planning a second count of unsheltered people this year — this one in June.
The U-S Department of Housing & Urban Development requires agencies that receive federal funds to conduct a homeless census at least every two years.
Changing Homelessness CEO Dawn Gilman says the results of the federally mandated point-in-time count in January raised some red flags.
“This year we saw a very sharp increase in unsheltered homelessness in Nassau County and just slight increases in Duval and Clay County,” Gilman said.
Gilman said it’s not that increases weren’t expected; it’s the discrepancy among the three counties that got their attention. And one reason she can think of is worrisome.
When some people in Duval County were asked: “Did you sleep outside last night?” their immediate response was “I’m absolutely not homeless.”
That led the organization to believe there could be “some sort of harassment or moving on amongst people in these camps,” Gilman said. “And so they want to hide what is happening to them. Because they don’t think anyone will help them, that that question is only to punish them, which makes it a lot harder for us to reach them and offer any assistance that’s available.”
Another concern, Gilman said, is that people may have moved.
“Either we were doing the point-in-time count in the wrong time, or people have moved really kind of deep into the woods, which means they’re very entrenched,” she said. “It’s bad for them, it’s bad for the environment. It’s something that we really need to be able to reach out and find folks to help them get reconnected and back into housing.”
The summer census is set for June 27-29. Gilman said it’s likely to turn up more unsheltered people than the 500 counted in January … and that there could be a substantial increase in homeless families and people 55 and older.
“I think we had enough anomalies that we need to go out again this summer just to really see what the trends are,” Gilman said.
For more information or to volunteer, go to changinghomelessness.org.