Every year the Continuum of Care (COC) for Okaloosa and Walton County conducts a “point in time” count to capture a snapshot of homelessness in our community. This snapshot enables the COC to assess the community’s needs, especially among unsheltered individuals and families that may not have accessed services.
The 2020 point in time count was conducted shortly before COVID lockdowns hit the gulf coast and the 2021 count was cancelled, so this is the first count since COVID exacerbated the challenges of poverty in our community.
On March 4th, 2022 there were 403 people experiencing homelessness in Okaloosa and Walton County, a 14% increase from the 2020 point in time count which found 351 people experiencing homelessness.
The increase is true for almost all categories. The number of families experiencing homelessness increased from 20 to 28. The number of single adults experiencing homelessness increased from 295 to 319, and the number of children experiencing homelessness rose from 33 to 42.
The rise in homelessness has affected both men and women as well as people from all races and ethnicities.
Although the economic dislocation associated with COVID has led to a larger homeless population, those experiencing chronic homelessness have decreased, as have the number of unsheltered homeless individuals. The COC has prioritized decreasing the chronic homelessness in our community since 2015 by expanding permanent supportive housing and outreach services. Those efforts paid off and enabled our community to decrease chronic homelessness, even as the pandemic created new areas of vulnerability. On the night of March 4th, there were 83 individuals experiencing chronic homelessness. This is a 50% decrease from 2020, where 183 individuals were experiencing chronic homelessness on the night of the count.
The decrease in the unsheltered number of individuals — both in absolute and percentage terms– speaks to the effectiveness of expanding shelter capacity, especially the opening of One Hopeful Place, and voucher programs such as those offered by Caring and Sharing of South Walton. On the night of the count, there were 234 unsheltered individuals, making up 58% of the homeless population, a significant decrease from the night of the count in 2020, which found 255 unsheltered individuals, making up 72% of the homeless population.
Overall the PIT numbers point to the continued need to provide programs and resources to end homelessness in our community. With high numbers of newly homeless individuals and families, it is vital that we provide resources to prevent their housing crises from becoming cycles of homelessness.
COC members are working hard to rehouse these families and individuals and to provide them stabilization support. Many of these programs have been funded through government assistance, particularly CARES. As that funding is drawn down, it is important that these programs continue. The decline in both chronic homelessness and veteran homelessness demonstrate the effectiveness of housing first programs and supportive services. We have come a long way with these two populations, but there is still much work to be done in the larger community.