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    Frequently Asked Questions

    How many homeless people are there in Hillsborough County?

    The 2011 homeless census counted 17,755 homeless men, women and children residing in Hillsborough County.  Of this number there are 10,419 people who are living "doubled up" with family and friends because they cannot afford or maintain their own housing.  The other 7,336 are literally homeless people living on the streets of Hillsborough County.


    How does this compare to past census?

    The 2011 homeless census showed a drastic increase in homeless people living in Hillsborough County.  This is believed to be because of a worsening economy.  The HEARTH Act also contributed to the increase in identified homeless people in Hillsborough County by adding those who are "doubled up" to the homeless count. 


    Who is homeless?

    • men, women and children
    • educated and uneducated
    • employed and unemployed
    • white, black, Hispanic
    • young and old
    • disabled and able-bodied
    • mentally ill and mentally healthy
    • people who struggle with addictions as well as those who have never abused substances

    There really is no single ‘type’ of homeless person.


    What Causes Homelessness?  Why do people become homeless?

    While there is no one single cause of homelessness, the biggest contributing factor to the rising number of homelessness is the shortage of affordable housing for people with limited incomes.

    • low-paying job
    • unemployment
    • lack of needed services
    • domestic violence
    • drug and alcohol addiction
    • insufficient education
    • poverty
    • family breakup
    • physical and mental illness
    • catastrophic illness
    • disasters (i.e. fires/storms)
    • death of a family member


    Why should I care about homeless people?  I have enough to worry about.

    Homelessness affects everyone in our community.  Homeless people are our neighbors, our children’s friend’s family, our waiters and waitresses, our employees, co-workers, and congregation members.  Homelessness affects us as employers, taxpayers, concerned citizens and people of faith/compassion.


    Don’t most homeless people live in Downtown?  They are not in my neighborhood.

    Homeless people live in every area of Hillsborough County.

    Based on County Commission Districts (2009),

    District 1:  24%

    (Apollo Beach, Davis Island, Gandy, Gibsonton, Harbor Island, Hyde Park, MacDill, Palma Ceia, Ruskin, South Tampa, Sun City, Sunset Park, Town ‘n Country)

    District 2:  8%

    (Carrollwood, Citrus Park, Hillsborough River State Park, Keystone, Lutz, New Tampa, Seffner, Tampa Palms, Temple Terrace, Thonotosassa)

    District 3:  64%

    (Busch Gardens, Central Tampa, Downtown, Florida State Fairgrounds, Lake Magdalene, Palm River, Progress Village, Seminole Heights, Tampa International Airport, University Area/USF, Ybor City)

    District 4:  4%

    (Alafia River State Park, Antioch, Balm, Bloomingdale, Brandon, Dover, Durant, Lithia, Little Manatee River State Park, Mango, Pinecrest, Plant City, Providence, Riverview, Summerfield, Valrico, Wimuama)


    How do you know how many homeless people live in Hillsborough County?

    Every two years the Homeless Coalition of Hillsborough County conducts a homeless census where volunteers spread out across the 1,000 square miles of Hillsborough County during a single 24-hour period.  When they identify someone as homeless, they ask them to complete a 1-2 minute interview that is used to determine the number of homeless people.

    Any homeless census is always an undercount because it is literally impossible to count every homeless person in a single 24-hour period.  The weather on the day of the census also plays a big part in the outcome of the census because on a cold, rainy census day, homeless people alter their normal activities/routines and seek shelter and safety in alternative places. 


    Isn’t it true that we have more homeless people because of our weather?

    No. People move to communities based on a number of factors – employment opportunities, cost of living, cost of housing, to be closer to friends and/or family – and these are the same factors that homeless people use when choosing where they live.


    Isn’t it true that homeless people come here from other communities/states?

    No.  Data from the 2011 homeless census states that:

    90 percent of homeless people living in Hillsborough County became homeless in Florida.

    72 percent have been residing in Hillsborough County for at least 1 year (before and during their homelessness).


    If we increase and/or improve our services, won’t that draw more homeless people to Hillsborough County?

    No. Studies have shown that homeless people do not migrate for services. To the extent they do move to new areas, it is because they are searching for work, have family in the area, or other reasons not related to services.  A recent study found that 75% of homeless people are still living in the city in which they became homeless.

    Martha Burt, What We Know About Helping the Homeless and What It Means For HUD's Homeless Programs, Testimony presented to the Housing and Community Development Subcommittee of the Banking and Financial Institutions Committee of the U.S. House of Representatives 1 (March 5, 1997).


    Why don’t we just build more shelters and get people off the street?

    The emergency and transitional shelter system that has been in place for decades has not worked.  What has worked successfully in communities throughout the nation is Housing First, moving homeless people into permanent housing with supportive services.


    I don’t want my tax dollars going to put someone in a permanent home for free.

    Your tax dollars are already being used to cover emergency room, hospital and criminal justice expenses for homeless people.  It actually costs less to house a homeless person than it does to let them continue living on the street.

    Communities throughout the nation are using the Housing First model and are 1) saving taxpayers money and 2) seeing homeless people become productive citizens in the community – returning to work, volunteering and giving back.

    Aren’t there some homeless people that don’t want to get help because they like their life?

    Based on the information we know, the vast majority of homeless people do not like or want to be living on the street.  What typically happens is that because of losing everything, they lose their self-esteem and in order to cope, simply believe that this is their lot in life and all they deserve.  Yet when they are able to get help and build their self-esteem up, they truly desire a better life off the street.


    Why don’t they just get a job?

    Homeless people do work.  In fact of the 65 percent of homeless people in Hillsborough County that said they had a source of income, 17 percent reported their income was from work.

    Minimum wage or even $10 an hour is no longer enough to be able to afford housing in our community (or in the nation).

    Also, homeless people face many challenges that prevent them for getting a job, such as:

    • they do not have an address to put on their job applications;
    • they do not have a phone for potential employers to contact them for interviews, and
    • often their IDs have been stolen or lost while living on the streets.

    Most employers are not going to hire someone who doesn’t have an address, a phone and certainly not without an ID.


    Don’t homeless people commit more violent crimes than housed people?

    No. Homeless people actually commit less violent crimes than housed people. Dr. Pamela Fischer, of Johns Hopkins University, studied the 1983 arrest records in Baltimore and found that although homeless people were more likely to commit non-violent and nondestructive crimes, they were actually less likely to commit crimes against person or property.

    Most crimes committed by homeless persons are loitering and trespassing, public urination, and petty theft.


    If you give a homeless person money, won’t they just spend it on drugs/alcohol and cigarettes?

    Some homeless people might.  Some homeless people do turn to substances (alcohol and nicotine) to dull the pain of living on the street.  Other homeless people will use the money to buy food or a night of lodging at a run-down motel.


    Aren’t all homeless people mentally ill or substance abusers?

    No.During the 2011 homeless census only 35 percent of all respondents reported any sort of dibilitating condition.  Of that only 36 percent were mental illnesses and 13 percent were substance abuse or addictions.


    Don’t most homeless people live on the streets for years?

    No.  In Hillsborough County,

    51 percent are homeless for the first time

    49 percent have been homeless for less than a year


    Why do homeless people have cell phones?

    Many homeless people work or have a source of income.  Prepaid cell phones are extremely cheap - $20-$30 and a person is usually eligible to receive a free phone from SafeLink Wireless (www.safelinkwireless.com) if they receive TANF, Medicaid, or Food Stamps from the state.  Having a cell phone is actually a life line for homeless people.  They can contact potential employers, schedule medical and/or legal appointments, call organizations in search of help, keep in touch with family, and call for help when needed.


    Where do homeless people go for shelter?

    There are a handful of places homeless people can go for shelter.  Many serve a ‘sub-population’ meaning they may only serve veterans, persons with mental illness, persons with substance abuse needs, ex-offenders, domestic violence, etc…

    Single men

    • Salvation Army
    • New Beginnings/New Life
    • Liberty Manor (if Veterans)
    • Tampa Crossroads (ex-offenders)

    Single Women

    • Salvation Army
    • New Beginnings
    • Metropolitan Ministries
    • Mary and Martha House
    • Tampa Crossroads (ex-offenders)
    • Alpha House (if pregnant)


    • Metropolitan Ministries
    • Mary and Martha House (no boys over 12)
    • Alpha House (pregnant women with children only)
    • Salvation Army

    Substance Abuse

    • ACTS
    • DACCO
    • Salvation Army

    Mental Illness

    • Mental Health Care
    • Northside Mental Health (South County)
    • Volunteers of America


    • The Spring of Tampa Bay – Domestic Violence
    • Catholic Charities – Women with HIV/AIDS


    Isn't there enough shelter space for homeless people?

    No.  Right now there is only enough emergency and transitional shelter space of approximately 1,234 homeless people on any given night.  Compare that to the 7,336 people who are living on the streets.


    Where do homeless people go for food?

    There are many organizations and groups that provide meals for homeless people either at their organization or serve ‘outside’ meals at different locations throughout the County.


    Where can a homeless person take a shower? Do laundry?

    Right now, the only place that provides these services is “The Shop” operated by Mental Health Care, and they only serve people with mental illness.


    How do homeless people get from place to place?  Does anyone provide bus fare for them?

    Mostly they walk. If they have income they may be able to purchase bus fare. Many organizations provide transportation for their ‘residents.’  However, most homeless people do not have access to this service.


    How do homeless people get healthcare?

    There are a few clinics that provide health services:

    Tampa Family Health Centers

    Judeo-Christian Clinic

    Red Clinic

    There is also a Mobile Medical Van that goes to locations where homeless people congregate/gather and provides some healthcare.

    Additionally, some homeless people may qualify and get health care through the County’s Indigent Health Plan.

    However, a large number of homeless people rely on the emergency rooms for healthcare, which is the most costly form of healthcare.


    Are there any programs that help people with deposits and first month rents to assist them in getting a place to stay?

    Yes. There are some programs that can provide people with financial assistance for rental deposits and first month rent.

    The organizations that provide this assistance are:

    Salvation Army

    Family Support Services (Crisis Center)

    St. Vincent DePaul

    Hillsborough County Homeless Recovery

    In addition, some churches provide financial assistance.


    Are there programs that keep people from becoming homeless if they’ve gotten behind on their bills?

    Yes.  There are some programs that can provide people with financial assistance to help them catch up on their rent/utilities.

    The organizations that provide this assistance are:

    Salvation Army

    Family Support Services (Crisis Center)

    St. Vincent DePaul

    Hillsborough County Neighborhood Service Centers

    In addition, some churches provide financial assistance.


    I’ve heard that some shelters charge people to stay there.  Why?

    Yes, some shelters do charge people.  Some provide a certain number of nights free before they begin charging $5-$10 a night.  Some organizations do this to help offset the cost of housing clients others do this because they believe a person should contribute to their own well being.


    So what if a person can’t pay?  What happens to them?

    Unfortunately they return to living on the street, in alleys, parks, etc…


    What should I do when I see a person with a sign on the corner asking for help?

    That is really a personal choice based on your own comfort level and beliefs.

    Some people:

    • Give them fast food gift certificates or a snack
    • Choose to donate to an organization(s) that helps homeless people
    • Give them money
    • Ignore them
    • Direct them to a service provider/organization


    What services for homeless people does the City or County provide?

    Hillsborough County is the governmental entity that is responsible for Health and Human Services for the entire county.

    Through the County’s Health and Social Services’ Department, eligible homeless individuals and families can get assistance with shelter and/or emergency rent, security deposit and utilities to get back into housing.  The department can also provide assistance with obtaining employment, transportation, emergency food and child care.


    What is needed to help homeless people?

    There remain several gaps in services available to help homeless people.

    Housing is the primary need.  Followed by help obtaining ID and documentation needed to find employment, life skills training, physical, mental and emotional health care, transportation to/from service organizations and employment, education, connection to mainstream services, as appropriate, like Social Security disability, food stamps, section 8, etc.


    What is the Homeless Coalition doing to increase/improve services in the community?

    The Homeless Coalition continues to work on implementing the Tampa-Hillsborough 10-year plan to end homelessness.  We continue to work to:

    • Increase prevention services available. For example, financial assistance that will help an individual or family remain in their current housing by helping them get over a ‘bump’ or unexpected expense.
    • Develop and implement a Customer Service Center that will be a one-stop place where people can get connected effectively and efficiently to the services they need.
    • Develop and implement the Hillsborough Emergency Lodging Program to provide emergency shelter space for individuals and families.  Currently the plan is to develop the first H.E.L.P shelter in conjunction with a Customer Service Center.
    • Develop and implement a Recuperative Care Center to provide a safe place where homeless people can recover from illness and injury as well as connect them with services to help them secure housing.
    • Implement the Housing First model to move homeless individuals and families into housing ‘first,’ then provide them with the needed support services to develop their self-sufficiency.

    Why can’t homeless people get Section 8 (housing assistance)?

    There has been a waiting list in place for Section 8 assistance for the past several years.  The wait can be as long as 2 years.


    What does the Homeless Coalition do?

    The Coalition is responsible for moving the community developed plans (10-year plan; taskforce report) forward.  To do this we bring together various entities, agencies, service organizations and individuals to improve current services and expand/add services in accordance with the community developed plans to meet the needs of our homeless neighbors.

    We are also the federally designated the lead agency for the Tampa-Hillsborough homeless system of care (Continuum of Care).

    The Coalition is responsible for bringing approximately $8 million in federal and state funding to Hillsborough County for homeless programs and services.

    With the addition of staff in the past year, we are now able to actively seek other grants and funding opportunities to assist in funding needed services.


    Who is part of your Coalition?

    Our member agencies include more than 30 service providers and businesses including Salvation Army, Metropolitan Ministries, Veteran’s Administration, Tampa Housing Authority, Harmony Behavioral Health, Alpha House, Project Return, Volunteers of America and more.

    We work with all sectors of the community to address the needs of homeless people, including:

    • Government – Federal, state and local
    • Service Providers
    • Hillsborough County Public Schools
    • Law enforcement
    • Faith Based organizations
    • Business and Community Leaders
    • University professors and students
    • Private Foundations
    • State and National organizations and coalitions
    • Individuals


    How do you become a member of the Coalition?

    Membership in the Coalition is open to all service providers, businesses, faith communities, organizations and individuals who are committed to developing workable solutions to help our homeless neighbors.  Visit our membership page for more information.


    MAIN: 813-223-6115 | FAX: 813-223-6178 | P.O. BOX 360181, TAMPA, FL, 33673-0181 | info@homelessofhc.org