Biennial homeless count coming
Jay Meisel | Highlands TodayAVON PARK - Lisa Lucas and Toni Tucker previously worked as real estate agents, and in many cases helped people with homes find new homes.
Published: January 7, 2013
Published: January 7, 2013
Now their goal is to help the homeless find a roof over their heads.
Lucas, the executive director of the Highlands County Coalition for the Homeless, and Tucker, a data entry specialist at the organization, became involved with the coalition after being involved with other groups. From there they found out about job opportunities with the coalition.
Their ultimate goal of finding housing for every homeless person may be daunting, but Lucas said she's seen success stories, such as a woman who became homeless and lost custody of her children. Now the mother lives in a house and has regained custody of her kids.
"That's why it's a passion (to help the homeless)," she said. "I know good things can come out of it."
They want the coalition to offer programs that not only enable people to find a long-term place to live, but also help them with life skills so they don't end up homeless again.
A key to helping the homeless is to know how many people are in that situation, they said. A count will let them know not only how many need services, but will provide the numbers necessary to justify receiving federal funding, they added.
On Jan. 26, the coalition will be the lead agency in the Point in Time Homeless Count, which occurs every other year. Lucas said the Highlands group also will help coordinate counts in DeSoto, Okeechobee, Hendry, Glades and Hardee counties.
Teams of volunteers will search the woods, behind buildings and along the streets, among other places where the homeless seek shelter.
Two years ago, the volunteers found 1,207 homeless people in Highlands County and 4,236 in the six-county area.
So far this year, they know the Highlands County School District is aware of 273 homeless children attending schools and 743 homeless people receiving food stamps.
Although in recent years the numbers of the homeless have surged, Lucas said, she expects this month's count will find the number has stabilized.
Some of the homeless face drug addiction and or mental illness, she said. Others became homeless because their homes have been foreclosed or due to other problems.
"A lot of families are living doubled up and sometimes that doesn't work out," Lucas said.
To help find those homeless people, the coalition is looking for additional volunteers. Anyone interested in volunteering can call (863) 452-1086 or (863) 381-1445.
Training sessions at the coalition's office, 1306 S. Tulane Ave., Avon Park, will be held Jan. 21 at 11 a.m. and 4:30 p.m.; Jan. 22 at 11 a.m. and 5:15 p.m.; and Jan. 24 at 1 p.m. and 5:15 p.m.
The coalition also is seeking donations of items such as socks, washcloths, blankets, hand sanitizers and pre-packaged snacks or money. Donations can be taken to Mid-Florida Real Estate, Main Street, Lake Placid, or the coalition's office at 1306 S. Tulane Ave., Avon Park, or people can call (863) 452-1086 about making donations in Sebring.
Once the count is complete, the results will help determine how much money the coalition will receive, Lucas said.
Based on formulas that take into account various factors, the six-county area can receive up to $600,000 this year in federal funds, she said.
While that can do only so much, it would be a new start for the coalition's efforts to help the homeless, she said.
The organization was formed in 2003 as a nonprofit. It lost most of its funding in 2010, but after struggling to rebuild during the last two years, the coalition is funded for operations.
Future goals include emergency shelters for people who suddenly become homeless, an expanded program to help people find permanent housing, offering more rental assistance and an assessment center to determine individual needs of the homeless.
They also say they will continue working with the Avon Park Housing Authority on the transitional housing program, which helps people prepare for a permanent residence.
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