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Pandemic continues to leave people homeless in Tampa Bay area

Homeless shelters full or close to capacity
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Posted at 5:29 AM, Jun 30, 2021

TAMPA, Fla. — The CDC's eviction moratorium that was set to expire at the end of June has been extended one more month.

The Supreme Court ruled to keep the hold on evictions to help people struggling financially because of the pandemic.

One of those people is Deborah Ennis.

"I never expected to be where I am," Ennis said.

For two decades Ennis helped people through their toughest moments as a licensed mental health counselor, but when the pandemic hit, she found herself as the one who needed help.

"Practice had slowed down a whole lot from the pandemic. You know people can't afford counseling if they can't afford food," Ennis said.

A service that people needed the most was now a luxury and a job that kept Ennis with a roof over her head was gone.

Her car was repossessed. She had to let her apartment go and now she has no place to call home.

"I am almost glad I am 70 because it is almost over," Ennis said.

Ennis has called shelters but she said they're either full or she gets no response.

Kirk Ray Smith with Hope Villages of America said affordable housing and shelters were already limited before COVID-19 disrupted the world.

"Now you start to see with the moratorium being lifted folks are being evicted right so that is opening up inventory, but now you got a whole new group of homeless people so the problem just continues to compound, compound, compound," Smith said.

In Pinellas County, Smith said there are about 180 beds for families at the shelters and about 760 for individuals.

That's close to a thousand total, but not nearly enough. It's a similar story across the rest of the Tampa Bay area.

In Polk County, four emergency shelters are available to the public, however, county leaders said they are typically full or near capacity.

There is more than one reason for that, but leaders pointed out one of the biggest challenges is the inventory of affordable rental housing locally and nationwide.

"It's not getting any cheaper to live. Florida continues to grow. I think it's about 200 million people living in the state now and a 1.26% percent growth every year. So, obviously, inventory is hard," Smith said.

Housing the homeless is an arduous task, to say the least, but it's stories like Ennis' that fuel Smith and others to keep pushing forward.

"If nothing happens from COVID, I hope it gives people at least empathy to understand that we're all 30 minutes or one situation away from something like this being our reality," Smith said.

A bit of good news in a bleak circumstance, Smith said the county is in the works to receive two additional affordable housing units which would create 20 additional units for families.

Hope Village of America relies heavily on donations and volunteers. For more information about the organization visit their website here.

Helpful Services around the Tampa Bay area:

DESOTO COUNTY

HILLSBOROUGH COUNTY

  • Homeless & Community Services works in collaboration with the Tampa Hillsborough Homeless Initiative (THHI) and the Continuum of Care to provide resources to individuals and families experiencing homelessness leading them to self-sufficiency.

PASCO COUNTY

  • Currently has two homeless shelters
    • One has 24 beds; 12 for women and 12 for men. The other shelter is for single women or single women with minors only.
  • Two domestic violence shelters are located in Pasco County. Information on those shelters is very restrictive.
  • Coalition for the Homeless of Pasco County

SUMTER COUNTY

HIGHLANDS COUNTY

  • Does not have a homeless shelter
  • Hope Haven located at Safari Inn helps house the homeless
  • Contact: Leslie Behm - 863-385-7649

CITRUS COUNTY

  • Six homeless shelters
  • Click here for more resources.

POLK COUNTY

  • Four emergency shelters:
  • Talbot House (Lakeland)
  • Lighthouse Ministries (Lakeland)
  • Salvation Army West (Lakeland)
  • Salvation Army East (Winter Haven)