Florida Keys

Homeless population shifts in the Keys after the hurricane

Key West’s overnight homeless shelter takes in about 100 people each night on Stock Island.
Key West’s overnight homeless shelter takes in about 100 people each night on Stock Island. FLKeysNews File

Monroe County has a slightly higher homeless population than a year ago but a considerably lower number since Hurricane Irma struck in 2017, according to new survey results.

Combining those who live on the streets, on derelict boats, in emergency shelters or transitional housing, the total on Jan. 29, 2019, was 515, with the region’s largest increase found in the Middle Keys.

A year ago on a single day in January, the figure was 495 yet in January 2017, months before Irma struck, it was 631.

“Some homeless took shelter in Miami and did not return,” said Mark Lenkner, of the Monroe County Homeless Services Continuum-of-Care.

The 2019 number of unsheltered homeless, though, has risen in a year by 11 percent: 211 to 235, but it’s more than 20 percent lower than the 292 in 2017.

About 74,000 people live in the Keys, according to a post-Irma report by the University of Florida.

The “Point-In -Time” survey sends dozens of volunteers, directed by nonprofit leaders, across the Keys on a single day in January to find and interview the homeless. More detailed results will be released within the next several months.

In the Lower Keys, from Key West to Big Pine Key, 122 unsheltered homeless were found this year, compared to 102 in 2018. In 2017, there were 143 people.

The rest of the unsheltered Keys population varied.

In Marathon, which represents the Middle Keys, this year 74 were found compared to 53 last year. That’s a 40 percent jump.

In the Upper Keys, the region north of the Seven Mile Bridge, a 39 percent decrease was found - 39 compared to last year’s 57.

But organizers say choppy waters and the cold weather on Jan. 29 stopped volunteers from searching for liveaboards, making the count artificially low.

Gwen Filosa covers Key West and the Lower Florida Keys for FLKeysNews.com and the Miami Herald and lives in Key West. She was part of the staff at the New Orleans Times-Picayune that in 2005 won two Pulitzer Prizes for coverage of Hurricane Katrina. She graduated from Indiana University.

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