Housing advocates see high influx of homelessness in 2022 as rents increased

As communities remember those who died while homeless on National Homeless Persons Memorial Day Wednesday, housing advocates said the need grew in a way they haven’t seen before.

What homelessness looks like can vary, from living with a friend or relative short term to a tent or on the streets.

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"Each one of us really does have a role to play in ending homelessness, whether that’s advocating with our elected leaders or whether it’s just showing kindness to our neighbors," said Sam Picard, the pastor of Missio Dei Community in Pinellas County.

In 2022, homelessness trends did not go the right direction.

"We're starting to see a high influx of homelessness, especially among our senior population, due to the high rent increases," said Cynthia Jones-Northington, the program director of Tampa HOPE with Catholic Charities St. Petersburg.

Tampa HOPE offers tent housing as a stable transition, and Jones-Northington said some people who stay in the tents have jobs but just don’t make enough to pay rent.

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"Many of our clients are on fixed incomes and those fixed incomes could average about $841 from Social Security, and they could never afford market price rent here in Tampa at all," said Jones-Northington.

Advocates said they’re seeing more homeless people than before.

"We saw a four percent increase in homelessness, which is unusual," said Antoinette Hayes-Triplett, the CEO of Tampa Hillsborough Homeless Initiative (THHI). "We've only had a couple episodes of increase in homelessness over the last nine years that I've been in Tampa."

Pandemic-related help is running out, squeezing what’s left in reserves over the next few months into 2023.

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"The funds that we currently receive at the local, state and federal level is not enough to end homelessness," said Hayes-Triplett. "It's barely enough to sustain the people that are experiencing homeless now."

THHI said communities can do more to help provide services and housing resources.

"It's a basic human right. I have people say to me like, ‘People want to be homeless.’ It's not true," said Hayes-Triplett.

The cold weather expected this week has further highlighted the need for more permanent housing.

"I've just heard that all the cold weather shelters are full to capacity," said Jones-Northington of local shelters in Tampa. "What we're doing here at Tampa HOPE, we are putting together a plan where residents are encouraged to go visit family and friends for the holiday."

The Homeless Leadership Alliance of Pinellas said it has 100 families without housing Wednesday, and it plans to open cold weather shelters Friday and Saturday. THHI said Hillsborough County shelters will also open later in the week with limited space.