One-stop center on hold after homeless count released

Peggy Choudhry

By Rachel Christian

Staff Writer

The homeless population in Osceola County is down slightly, according to data released last week.

The yearly census, conducted across the nation on a single day in January, counted 2,053 homeless individuals in Orange, Osceola and Seminole counties. Local Osceola County numbers were also down since 2017, from 239 to 226, a 5.6 percent decrease. Numbers are still up significantly from 2016 though, when just 175 homeless individuals were counted in Osceola County – an increase of nearly 30 percent in the last two years.

The figures are part of the annual Point in Time (PIT) count, which is conducted locally

Peggy Choudhry

by volunteers from the Central Florida Commission on Homelessness. Point in Time (PIT) counts are used by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to determine how much aid local communities receive.

The latest PIT count identified 226 homeless individuals in Osceola County. Veterans comprised 18 percent of the homeless population, while families made up another 32 percent. Most homeless individuals (64.6 percent) were found in emergency shelters.

But local homeless advocates say PIT doesn’t accurately reflect the true homeless population in a community.

“The best thing PIT can do is give us a brief snapshot of how many homeless may be in our area,” said Shelley Lauten, CEO of the Central Florida Commission on Homelessness. “And sometimes, that snapshot can be very blurry.”

Instead, Lauten and others point to data collected by the Central Florida Contrium of Care (C0C), a collaboration between homeless stakeholders from Orange, Seminole and Osceola counties.

Organizations that provide aid to the homeless input the number of individuals they serve and what kind of assistance they receive.

According to CoC numbers, there were 378 active homeless client cases in Osceola County over the last year. The CoC dashboard still shows a decrease in the county’s homeless population, but the number remains higher then the federal PIT count.

Osceola County Commissioner Peggy Choudhry told fellow board members Monday that people should consider data from CoC to gain a better understanding of the community’s homeless problem.

“It’s a much more accurate count,” she said. “We know the Point in Time count only takes place on that one day, and isn’t necessarily 100 percent, due to weather and other circumstances.”

Choudhry has been a vocal supporter of assisting the homeless population in Osceola County. She spearheaded efforts last year to bring a one-stop community crisis center to Kissimmee. The center would focus on providing resources to families in financial crisis, as well as some services for the chronically homeless, such as showers and public restrooms.

Choudhry first presented the concept to commissioners last year. She described the center as a facility where non-profits and churches could collaborate and pool resources to better serve those in need.

The concept was unpopular with fellowboard members from the beginning, but many residents and community leaders gladly lent their voices in support of it.

Over 30 people advocated for the crisis center at an Osceola County commissioner’s meeting March 19.

No action was taken that night, but Choudhry told supporters efforts would regroup and return in May to ask for a budget vote.

That didn’t happen. Chairman Fred Hawkins Jr. was absent from Monday’s meeting, and Choudhry said she chose to hold off on bringing the item back to the board because several citizens told her they wanted to learn more about the non-profits in the community before making a presentation.

“Citizens are now saying, ‘We want to educate ourselves and know exactly what’s out there so that we don’t duplicate efforts,’” Choudhry said. “We’re trying to do our full due diligence before presenting the project for the one-stop center.”

Choudhry said PIT count numbers may be down, but assured that she and her supporters are still pushing to make the center a reality.

“There are also those families that fall into homelessness,” she said. “It’s about providing help before it gets to that point.”

Choudhry said she plans to bring the issue back to the board in July.