Homeless Population Rises Along With Rents


In Central Fla., an increased number of homeless people is “almost exclusively the result of rising housing costs,” says the director of the Homeless Services Network.

ORLANDO, Fla. – Homelessness appears to be worsening in Central Florida, though agencies paid to house more than 3,400 people last year.

An ongoing housing crisis and soaring rents are pushing more and more people to the brink of eviction, local experts said.

Increasing numbers of homeless people are almost exclusively the result of rising housing costs, said Martha Are, executive director of the Homeless Services Network of Central Florida, during a discussion of the problem last Tuesday with Orange County commissioners.

Citing U.S. General Accountability Office research, Are said, a $100 increase in median rent drives up homelessness by 9%.

Rent in metro Orlando that averaged about $1,550 a month in pre-pandemic 2020 shot up $600 a month in the three years since, according to a researcher from Rent.com, a website featuring apartment listings and housing information.

“You all know how much the rents have gone up the last couple of years,” Are said. “What we’re seeing is very predictable.”

More bad news may be on the horizon. Federal COVID relief funds that helped pay for shelter beds during the pandemic also are running out.

“That means the number of beds available for shelter are going to be decreasing over the next couple of years,” Are said.

Orange County is focused on keeping people in their homes whether by providing emergency financial aid or mediating conflicts between people sharing a living space, said Donna Wyche, who supervises county strategies to address mental health and homelessness issues.

“We want to prevent people from becoming homeless and hitting rock bottom. It’s never the place you want to be,” she said.

At the same meeting, county commissioners awarded $1 million in aid from the American Rescue Plan Act to the Coalition for the Homeless of Central Florida to expand prevention and diversion services and improve outreach to underserved regions. Those regions are further from the urban core and often less visible.

The number of people identified as homeless rose in 2022 from 2021 in metro Orlando, an area that includes Orange, Osceola and Seminole counties, according to the annual “Point-in-Time” census of sheltered and unsheltered people conducted on a single night. The snapshot, required by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development for funding, usually undercounts a region’s homeless population, especially unsheltered people, who may live under a bridge, in a forest, parked car, shed or storage unit, or on the street.

But it helps identify trends, said Are.

“We have seen an increase and we anticipate seeing an increase for the next count,” she said.

About 2,155 people were counted as homeless in the three-county area in 2022, including 426 counted as unsheltered. Numbers for 2023 will be released soon, she said.

During a public comment period, Michael Perkins, board president of the Christian Service Center of Central Florida, said the not-for-profit agency provides food and other assistance to “upwards of 650 to 750 people experiencing homelessness every day.”

“We see the problem getting worse in this community as you all do,” he said.

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