It’s nearly midnight when Sergio Torres reaches a dimly lit sidewalk with more than two dozen men and women fast asleep on makeshift beds. Nearby is an overcrowded homeless shelter in Miami’s downtown corridor.
“How are you doing? How old are you?” he asks in Spanish to one man still awake. “Don’t worry, we are just counting.”
Torres, an administrator with the City of Miami Homeless Assistance Program, punches into an iPad the man’s age (he said he was turning 60) and ethnicity.
Torres and a group of more than 100 professionals and volunteers were counting the homeless in Miami-Dade County, one person at a time.
There are more people living on the streets (1,007) compared to the same time last year (840), the one-night census found. There are also fewer homeless counted in shelters (3,145 compared to 3,316 in 2014). The total number of homeless, though, remained flat (4,152 compared to 4,156 in 2014). Officials were not able to pinpoint one reason for the increase in the street homeless population, but noted the weather may have contributed to less funding for shelter space for the street population.
“We’ve had significantly more pleasant weather compared to last year, which might have contributed to the street population, but on the table is the impact of the $700,000 in local funding that was shifted away from our programs and services in 2014. We believe that impacted trends as well,” said Ronald L. Book, Chairman of the Homeless Trust which coordinated the homeless census. “Regardless, these numbers should be a reminder to everyone that we must work together as a community, committing our resources only to programs and services with a proven track record of getting people off the streets and living productive lives.”
The count was part of a nationwide effort to count the number of individuals in shelters or sleeping on the streets. The U.S. Housing and Urban Development requires all communities across the country to count their homeless on one day during the last ten days of January. The results are reported back to HUD for state and local grand applications.