Homeless count digs deeper with outreach effort

Posted at 5:58 PM, Feb 25, 2016
and last updated 2016-02-26 00:20:52-05

In the Eastern Hillsborough "bedroom communities" of Brandon, Valrico, Seffner and such, the suburban sylvan scene is expected.

But Thursday, volunteers peered past the obvious for insight into the area's insidious indigent inhabitants.      

However, getting an accurate count  is a challenge.

"They're homeless, but yet they're not homeless," said Jim McNeil, who for the past four years has been trying to figure out who in this part of the county needs homeless services and resources.

"But here in Brandon," he explained, "We don't have really any kind of housing except the shelters that are open under extreme conditions."

Rather than go looking for those with no known address, today those in this community with a heart to serve served them.

"And so we just want our neighbors to come and enjoy a meal with us," enthused Eleanor Saunders, Director of the Emergency Care Help Organization (ECHO) of Brandon.  That community-based outreach group provided food, clothing, medical services, social services screenings and even vision testing today in a first-time event they called ECHO cares.

"Just in January alone, we served 40 homeless individuals," said Eleanor. "And I know that's hard for some people to believe -- they don't think that Brandon has a homeless population but we do."

At this event, dozens were added to a county-wide homeless total. Clients that ECHO and Homeless Coalition volunteers know might not have shown up on the ledger in years past. They say its important that these individuals are recognized in the census, because -- as people, and neighbors -- they do count.