Opinion: Homelessness and Poverty ‘by the Numbers’ in Pasco

Opinion: Homelessness and Poverty ‘by the Numbers’ in Pasco

By Mark Wickham, President and CEO of Youth & Family Alternatives, Inc.

Mark Wickham

Homelessness in Florida is a chronic problem and the face of homelessness may not be who you think.

To understand more, consider these stunning recent statistics:

  • One in six Floridians live in poverty and one in four children live in poverty.
  • The number of children living in poverty increased by 35% from 2006-2010.
  • Florida has the 3rd highest homeless population in the nation.
  • There are over 1 million Floridians that pay over 50% of their income on housing.
  • The mean income of Floridians fell by 11% from 2007-2011 and has not fully recovered.
  • The number of homeless students increased over the last three years to 71,000.
  • Nationally and in Florida over 30% of those experiencing homelessness are female.
  • 33% of the homeless are families with children.
  • In Florida schools, 11% of all homeless people are unaccompanied children and youth (one who is not in physical custody of a parent or guardian). This is 3% higher than the national average.
  • The number of homeless students has doubled nationally since the recession.

This is not just a problem but a major crisis that has lasting effects. We cannot turn a blind eye. We need to take action now.

The Cost of Homelessness

Homelessness affects more than the families involved. It affects entire communities. Homelessness places higher demand for local community services and resources from health care, law enforcement, substance abuse, mental health, education and other social services providers. People who are chronically homeless, including students, access the most costly health care with a continual cycle. Recent studies have shown that the homeless jail cycle cost more than $15,000 a year. The Central Florida Commission on Homelessness revealed that that there was about a $31,000 cost per year of a person cycling in and out of jail, emergency care and inpatient hospitalization. The numbers continue to add up over time and each one of our communities has to pay this bill.

I recently read an article that described 11 myths of Homelessness:

  • Homeless people are lazy and don’t want to work
  • Getting a Job will keep someone out of homelessness
  • Homelessness is a long term problem
  • Homelessness is typically related to mental illness
  • Most homeless people are addicted to drugs or alcohol
  • The homeless are older and single
  • Homelessness is only a problem in big cities
  • Homeless people live in the street
  • Homelessness is going away
  • Government Housing programs strain budgets
  • Fighting Homelessness is expensive

Consider the facts:

  • Between 44-55% of homeless individuals have worked during the year.
  • A national coalition found that a full-time minimum wage earner would have to work 69-174 hours a week to pay for an affordable rental unit.
  • The most common duration of homelessness is 1-2 days. Only about 175 are classified as chronically homeless. THIS LAST SENTENCE NEEDS CLARITY.
  • Only about 25% of individuals in shelters have a severe mental illness. Lack of affordable housing, unemployment, and poverty are the top three causes of homelessness.
  • Approximately 30% of homeless individuals in shelters have a drug or alcohol problem.
  • Approximately 30% of homeless individuals are age 24 or younger; 37% belong to families and one in forty-five children experience homelessness.
  • Approximately 46% of homeless individuals live in major cities. Up to 54% live in smaller cities, suburbs and rural areas.
  • Approximately 69% of homeless individuals live in shelters, 30% live in cars or other natural shelters like the woods and/or tents.
  • The number of homeless declined in in 2014 and 2014 but there has been an increase of homeless children.
  • Programs that helped low-income people meet basic needs (more than half of which is housing assistance) made up about 2.2% of the federal budget in 2013.
  • Studies have shown that simply housing people can reduce the number of homeless at a lower cost to society than leaving them without housing. One study showed that housing cost of $10,000 a year verse leaving them homeless cost nearly $30,000 per year.

It is evident that equipping our communities with the resources and funding needed to provide stable housing and proven solutions and interventions will provide a greater return on investment for all our communities throughout Florida. (Florida’s 2015 Council on Homelessness Report)

The numbers are what they are. We can go on and on with them. The question we are confronted with is: “what will work for our community?” Each community is confronted with homelessness and social service issues. We have to work as a community to provide solution and evidence-based support. Each one of our communities has a Continuum of Care that works to identify the homeless problem and create solutions. Pasco County has a long history of making sure that those in need receive what they need to improve their lives. This saves our community 100’s of thousands of dollars a year. Is this actually true?

How We Help, and How You Can Help

At Youth & Family Alternatives, Inc. (YFA) we have been a part of the community fabric for 45 years. We have been actively involved in improving our community one child and one family at a time. We have done this with the community and political leaders supporting our efforts. We have had success and have assisted in improving thousands of lives.

In 2016, we are keenly aware of the balance between service delivery, positive outcomes and fiscal responsibility. YFA is committed to improving the lives of those that are in the mist of struggles, giving them a safe place to call home, a hug when they need it and yes some tough love. We want to make sure that our children and families have opportunity to thrive so that they will give back to our community. The people we serve are so grateful for what we do. They see it as a hand up not a hand out.

YFA is a place people have called their home. It has been the one place they have received love, support, assistance, and just a break from the craziness of their own lives.

We are blessed to have 350 of the most wonderful staff who care for the people we serve. Our staff is the YFA family that serves our community. We all love what we do and appreciate the opportunity to help those that need us.

There is no silver bullet to solve all the problems, but we do know that by helping to improve the lives of our children and families there is a sense of satisfaction that “we have made a difference”.

Mark Wickham is President and CEO of Youth & Family Alternatives, Inc and is running for Honorary Governor of West Pasco to raise money to purchase beds for the Runaway Alternatives Project (RAP) House located in New Port Richey. RAP House is a Youth Crisis Shelter that serves children age 10-17 who are runaways, homeless and in need of an emergency place to stay.

To learn more about Youth & Family Alternatives, Inc., the services they provide, and how you can help, visit If you’d like to help support Mark Wickham’s campaign for West Pasco Governor, see his Facebook Page.

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