bench sleeper

City Conditions

What is Gainesville's homeless population?

A man panhandling on a city street

Between the masses of students and graduates walking down University Avenue there are many struggling to survive.

Although it is easy to scoff at the man begging for a dollar in the midst of rush hour traffic, homelessness is a prevalent issue in Gainesville, one that has drawn a lot of attention in recent months.

According to the 2007 Annual Report on Homeless Conditions in Florida, there are approximately 1,000 homeless individuals in Alachua County. Combining all shelters and transitional programs in the county, there are about 350 beds available to the homeless community on any given night. As a result, more than 600 individuals are without shelter every night.

Contrary to popular belief, only a moderate percentage of the total homeless population in Gainesville consists of middle-aged males.

"Most people perceive the homeless to be 40-year-old males panhandling on the side of the road," Lee Smith said, the facilities manager at St. Francis House, a local homeless shelter and soup kitchen. "It's survival of the fittest, so you don't see families and children out there."

In fact, 35 percent of all local homeless individuals are women and 27 percent are under the age of 18.

Additionally, more than 34 percent have received a high school diploma or GED. Therefore the problem cannot be solely attributed to unintelligence or laziness.

An additional misconception is the idea that all homeless persons are drifters who go from city to city. However, about a third of Alachua County's homeless population has lived here for a decade.

There are many different causes to this widespread poverty, but change requires awareness, Annette Kennedy said, a case manager for FloridaWorks.

Although complex, there are many reoccurring themes that cause homelessness, such as unemployment, lack of affordable housing and various illnesses/addictions that cannot be stopped apart from extended assistance.

"There is a mountain of issues that sustains homelessness in Gainesville," Annette Kennedy said. "They need to be addressed."

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