Any Given Night

Photo by Ray Bassett

Photo by Ray Bassett

Many local homeless people at one time either rented or owned a home in Pinellas County. This isn’t a generalization. It’s background insight from the results of thousands of interviews conducted over the years for the Point in Time Homeless Count, designed to get an estimate of the number of homeless individuals in the community on a given night.

Statistics won’t be available for months to come based on the January 29 annual Q&A sessions at 80 locations around the county. But even before the count is compiled, nonprofit sponsor the Homeless Leadership Board is confident its snapshot won’t reflect a large number of out-of-state homeless persons coming to Pinellas County for the seasonal good weather.

“That’s been a notion floated around,” said Susan Finlaw-Dusseault, director, Continuum of Care Services of the Leadership Board, “but it just hasn’t been supported by past surveys.”

The past few years, the county’s homeless count has found about 6,000-plus. Finlaw-Dusseault is cautious in predicting whether this number will go up or down. “We should learn the results at the end of April,” she said.

Those on the street or in shelters once led a normal life in an area neighborhood. So what went wrong?

Basically, troubles began stockpiling, although the reasons for homelessness are as individual as the people struggling for daily food and rest. But the count survey, consisting of about 20 questions, asked succinctly how homelessness came about. The general answers were lost job, alcohol or drug problems, medical challenges and other obstacles to avoid a downward spiral.

For this year’s head count, about 250 volunteers in 80 places, helped by 50 law enforcement agents, sat down with homeless persons, also asking basics such as “Where did you sleep January 28.”

These replies varied from “couch surfing” (popular term for crashing with a friend) to motel room paid by others or with a voucher.

Lisa (the names have been changed) lost her mother, which lead to losing her home. She’s tried to find employment. Still, she’s cheerful things will work out, ending the survey session with, “Have a blessed day.”

Carl broke his hip. This meant a job loss and all its terrible ramifications. But soon, he’ll receive disability benefits. He’s extremely happy to see the end of his wandering in the streets.

“You have to stay positive out here,” he said, sweeping his arm in the direction of numerous benches occupied by the homeless.

The site where this particular survey event took place – handled by four volunteers with clipboards – was the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority’s Grand Union Station near 31st Street South and Central Avenue in St. Petersburg.

With casual wear so prevalent, it’s difficult to sometimes discern the homeless from those off to work, catching a bus to get there. But at this site, most seemed to understand that the survey’s intent was to fulfill a requirement. This effort will bring in about $4 million in HUD federal grants for the county’s various forms of aid for its homeless.

Larry admitted he has an alcohol problem.

“Wouldn’t you drink if you had to live on the street?” he asked smiling. Then, he cut the joking and added, “It’s rough. I slept in the woods behind Walmart last night. And I’ll tell you, it was cold.”

Ronald was more than willing to answer any and all survey questions – like most of the homeless on the bright winter day. He accepted a free bus pass for his participation.

“You know, people need to talk with the homeless more,” he said, “because the homeless do want to find ways help themselves.”


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