Around 50 volunteers with clipboards and umbrellas fanned out across downtown Jacksonville at 4 a.m. Wednesday to talk to as many homeless individuals as they could find outdoors.
They were participating in the annual point-in-time homeless count organized by Changing Homelessness, a local nonprofit that helps people living on the streets.
Fifty-five-year old Michael Smith was stretched out on one of the street-level window ledges at the downtown public library, which offered him some protection from the rain.
Smith says he became homeless as a way of coping with the death of his wife. But after a year and a half, he says, he’s had enough.
“I put in a job application for Golden Corral. Hopefully that will come through,” he says. “I’m waiting for that so I can get me somewhere to stay, some housing, you know. I got the wheels in motion, hopefully, grace of God something will work out.”
Homeless organizations that get federal funds are required to conduct a homeless census every January.
The count helps them spot trends in homelessness and make sure there are enough services in place to meet the homeless population's needs.
Dawn Gilman with Changing Homelessness says last year was the first time there was a slight decrease in the number of homeless families in Northeast Florida.
But at the same time, she says, homelessness among young people between 18 and 24 years old and people over 60 seems to be on the rise.
The counts are also taking place today in Clay and Nassau counties and throughout the country at this time of year.