TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — The Hillsborough County Point-In-Time count, which performs a sort of census on the county’s homeless population, showed a reported 4% increase in the number of homeless people in Hillsborough.

While the percentage of homeless residents who were unsheltered, and the percentage of homeless veterans both decreased, the number of homeless families increased 21%, according to the report by the Tampa Hillsborough Homeless Initiative. The organization’s report took the count in February. Since then, prices for everything from food and fuel to housing have surged upward.

“The PIT count data was collected in February, prior to the significant increases in rent, gas and food.  Since the implementation of the strategic plan in June 2019, over 1700 people have moved into permanent housing via the 10 initiatives outlined in the plan,” Antoinette Hayes-Triplett, CEO of Tampa Hillsborough Homeless Initiative, said. “I am extremely concerned about the ongoing affordable housing crisis in Tampa and Hillsborough County, especially for our aging residents. Since 2018, there has been a 67% increase in the number of residents 62 years and older seeking homeless services.” 

According to THHI’s February count, about 1,513 people were reported as being homeless in Hillsborough County. In 2020, there were a reported 1,452.

The PICs are required by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. While the COVID-19 pandemic raged, an unsheltered count was not performed in 2021. Still, THHI reported 871 homeless individuals were sheltered last year.

The Florida Department of Children and Families reported there were an estimated 21,218 homeless Floridians “on any given night” in its latest report. The data in their report was for 2021. A more recent report has not yet been released. The report said there were 1,687 homeless families in the state last year, as well as 2,153 homeless veterans.

The Florida Council on Homelessness, the organization that creates the reports for Florida DCF, said “the number of people experiencing homelessness nationally has been steadily increasing over the past four years,” while Florida’s own homeless population has reportedly been decreasing.

The department said one strategy that has worked is a “focus on permanent housing” through use of state funds to create housing programs to get people off of streets and into safe, decent, and affordable housing of their own. The initiative is referred to as a “Housing First” philosophy and model.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, Florida used $86 million of Emergency Solutions Grant-Coronavirus funds, from the CARES Act, to pay for some homeless and housing stability needs. Another nearly $103 million was provided to local municipal jurisdictions to provide money for “emergency shelter, rapid rehousing, street outreach, and more.”

Now in 2022, 588 Hillsborough residents were unsheltered and 925 were sheltered, according to THHI. The count reported 151 families were homeless, as well as 147 veterans, and 17 unaccompanied youth.

Inflation remains a concern for housing and food costs, particularly for programs that provide these items to those in need.

The most recent inflation report, the Consumer Price Index for May, found the Tampa inflation rate was nearly 3% higher than the national one, at 11.3%. Comparatively, the U.S. rate was 8.6% inflation. While the largest price increases were driven by fuel, its effects on groceries and other products has translated directly to consumer costs.

Higher housing costs, which have continued to rise steadily over time in Tampa and other Florida communities, put the ability to provide assistance for housing the homeless or keeping people in the homes they are already staying more difficult, especially as rental and home purchase prices increase.

“It has become tremendously difficult to find affordable housing for people experiencing homelessness,” Hayes-Triplett said.