PINELLAS PARK – The amount of homeless people, especially entire families living on the streets, is rising and officials are looking for ways to do something about it.
With the nation’s economy in the pits and with no relief expected any time soon, shelters and food pantries are grasping for ways to meet the new and unexpected demand on their limited resources.
“We are seeing an entirely new kind of homeless person on the streets,” said Officer Steven Vangeli of the Pinellas Park Police Department’s homeless outreach team, one of three in Pinellas County.
The two others are operated by the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office and St. Petersburg police.
Just last week Vangeli discovered a woman and her three children living in a car after they were evicted from their home. Also last week a 50-year-old man who had suffered a debilitating stroke was found to be living in a homeless camp in the woods off of 118th Avenue.
In each case Vangeli was able to find help, but there are scores more on the streets who don’t know where to turn or are afraid to seek assistance in fear of losing their children.
“There are complete families out there,” Vangeli said. “People are losing their jobs and subsequently their homes because they cannot afford rent or mortgage payments.”
One single father with three kids was lodged temporarily in a local motel. He’s been showing up at day labor shops each day looking for work so he can put a permanent roof over his head and pay for food. But day labor jobs are few and far between because construction jobs, the backbone of day labor, have dried up.
In another case a mother and her 9-year-old son were found to be living in a car. Schools, too, are finding more students with no place to go when classes are over for the day. When teachers discover that they are without homes they call authorities who find help.
“It’s not that easy,” Vangeli said. “There are just so many resources in the county where people can be housed.”
Pinellas Hope, the Catholic Charities-supported encampment on 126th Avenue has no facilities for entire families. It does provide temporary shelter for individuals and couples. In recent months Pinellas Hope has been building more permanent wooden structures for those persons who need more shelter than a tent can provide.
To come up with more creative ways to deal with street people the Homeless Coalition of Pinellas County is trying to find more shelters for destitute families.
There are currently two main shelters for homeless families, Grace House and the Homeless Emergency Project, both in Clearwater. They reportedly are overcrowded. Donations and actual funds for expansion of new facilities are no longer available.
Vangeli said many people on the streets have no families to turn to for help. If they do, he said, those families themselves are facing their own financial challenges.