Annual Homeless Count Comes As Finances Tighten For First Coast Federal Government Workers

Jan 23, 2019

Volunteers around the country were out before dawn Wednesday — counting heads and asking questions as part of the annual Point-in-Time Count.

The count comes as the longest partial government shutdown in history pushes the families of more government workers to the brink.

The federally-mandated homeless census takes place every year on a single day in January.

Monique Elton with Changing Homelessness in Jacksonville said it can be difficult finding people sleeping outside in the early hours of the morning.

“I would expect that we’ll see more individuals out on the streets this evening and throughout the day because we have the count going on all day at different localities throughout Clay, Duval and Nassau until about 7:30, 8 o’clock tonight,” said Elton.

Elton said her organization uses the information collected during the count to identify trends in homelessness and decide where to focus money and other resources.

While the overall number of people living in shelters and on the streets has dropped steadily over the past decade, Elton said the number of homeless young people between 18- and 24-years-old has more than doubled.

Safety net organizations like Elton’s are paying close attention to the government shutdown and its effect on cash-strapped federal workers and their families in Northeast Florida.

The wife of one Coast Guard officer stationed at Mayport said she and her husband are thinking of selling their home so they won’t have to worry about trying to pay their mortgage if the shutdown goes past April.

Elton worries others who are even worse-off could end up living on the streets.

“It could have an impact on our numbers. We’re certainly considering what we can do… and working with our other partners in our community.”

Area food banks are also scrambling as Feeding Northeast Florida CEO Frank Castillo said when he called in to First Coast Connect with Melissa Ross on Wednesday morning.

“We have seen a significant rise in the amount of food that’s being needed and that’s being driven by the U.S. Coast Guard, you know, facing not having another paycheck this week. It’s putting enormous pressure on those families,” said Castillo.

Feeding Northeast Florida set up a food pantry Wednesday for TSA workers at Jacksonville International Airport.

The organization will bring its mobile food pantry to the Mayport Road USO on Thursday to help out Coast Guard members.

Contact reporter Cyd Hoskinson at choskinson@wjct.org, 904-358-6351 and on Twitter @cydwjctnews.