MILTON — Florida’s homeless rate has declined in recent years; however, homelessness remains an issue across the country, state and in Santa Rosa County.
According to Gov. Rick Scott in a 2016 report, the state’s homeless rate is declining due to the improving economy, increased local practices to help the homeless and more housing for people who are homeless and have special needs.
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development measures homelessness each January. For the test, known as the point in time count, HUD has program providers and volunteers count the number of people in homeless shelters and identify people living outdoors.
This does not account for individuals and families without a permanent residence or living in a vehicle, nor does it account for families staying in houses with multiple other families.
Local homelessness is measured by the EscaRosa Coalition on the Homeless. The last time it was measured was on Jan. 25, 2017, and ECOH found that there were six unsheltered homeless and 59 sheltered including seven children, according to Serene Keiek, marketing director at ECOH.
According to Rich Aloy, the Santa Rosa County Sheriff Office's public information officer, many people who are arrested and lack personal identification often claim to be homeless but really are not.
“I would not say our homeless has increased or decreased because [the] homeless population generally tries to keep away from law enforcement,” Aloy said. “I will say we do see transient homeless folks traveling through Santa Rosa to other locations, not making this their residence.”
Many homeless or soon-to-be homeless people in Northwest Florida come to Santa Rosa County to receive assistance from organizations like United Way, Family Promise, One Love, ECOH, Second Chance Outreach and local churches.
The EscaRosa Coalition on the Homeless, with help from the Escambia County School Board, created a Street Survival Guide for the homeless in Santa Rosa and Escambia. It includes information about where to receive anything from clothing to financial assistance to disability services.
United Way of Santa Rosa provides income stability assistance and guidance for families close to becoming homeless. Family Promise of Santa Rosa provides housing to homeless families, home-cooked meals, and assistance with educational and financial programs. One Love partners with local food banks throughout the year and offers food to families in need.
ONE FAMILY’S STORY
According to a local family, assistance doesn’t come as easily as it seems.
Chasity and her partner, who live in Milton and ask that their last names not be shared, are parents to an 18-month-old girl and a 5-year-old boy. The couple has been together for three years and homeless for five months, according to Chasity.
“[My partner] has been working odd and end jobs; I've been babysitting,” Chasity said. “We have tried every program in Santa Rosa and Escambia County to try and get us a place, even if it was for a night. We have wasted money on hotel after hotel when we had the money or slept in our vehicle because we had nowhere to go.
“We have been trying for months to speak to several different groups and places to find us a place; one place even told us we weren't fit parents and we shouldn't even have our kids, but our kids are not abused.”
Chasity said that she and her partner also tried to get assistance in Okaloosa County, but still no luck.
“It's hard being homeless and get everything we need for our kids,” Chasity said. “At one point we had a house we called home, but I was in and out of the hospital and the landlord evicted us because we had no way to contact him.”
A few months ago, Chasity said, the couple had to give their newborn for adoption due to their current situation.
“My [partner] lost his job; we only had our kids, we lost everything we owned,” she said.
Chasity said they tried every organization in the survival guide, and they were told that the organizations only help families about to become homeless, or that since she and James were not married, they weren’t considered a family.
The couple tried local shelters, but they have all been full.
“We are trying to be strong but it's hard,” Chasity said. “People feel taken for granted a lot because people burn their bridges with them.
“But I try to stay positive.”