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Wednesday, April 17, 2024

David Steenbergh blew cigarette smoke and gripped a plum binder thick with blank homeless surveys.

The data that would fill that binder would tell stories of breakups, addictions and empty bank accounts.

Steenbergh, 44, was one of about 50 people who went around the city Tuesday completing surveys for the Alachua County Coalition for the Homeless and Hungry Inc.

The surveys are reported to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Florida Department of Children & Families to help determine how much funding the coalition will receive.

"It gives us a much stronger argument for the basis of our funding," said Theresa Lowe, director of the Gainesville/Alachua County Office on Homelessness.

On Tuesday and Wednesday, 1,100 homeless people were counted on city streets - not including those who were in shelters, hospitals, schools and jails, Lowe said.

Steenbergh had been out in the heat all morning. True, he was paid $10 an hour to do the surveys. But he said it's not about the money.

He said the coalition needs money, though he's heard homeless people say they don't see the results.

He does, though. He said he sees it in the work done through Section 8 housing and the Salvation Army.

"If you don't look, then you don't see it," he said.

He walked up to a group and spoke to a woman. Looking directly in her eyes, he explained why he was there.

He explained how the coalition defined homelessness as anyone without a permanent home.

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Most of the group wasn't interested. He approached a man in a black collared shirt and gold-rimmed glasses.

Charles Folsom, 43, cleaned his glasses as Steenbergh read the list.

What caused you to be homeless? A breakup.

Where did you sleep Monday night? A friend's house.

What brought you to Alachua County? Looking for work.

Steenbergh moved on, walking past the downtown library, through Sweetwater Park and, eventually, back to the Alachua County Housing Authority.

Lowe waited for him. She sat by maps highlighted in orange and pink that marked boundaries of homeless haunts.

From sunrise to sunset, she waited for papers that might alleviate her constant fight for funding.

This fiscal year, she said, the coalition has received about $650,000 in grant renewals.

The count lets her know how many children don't have homes, how many veterans don't have medicine and how many empty bellies roam the streets.

Last year, the survey found homelessness had jumped by 38 percent to 1,781 people.

Perhaps, she said, surveyors did a better job at finding people.

"It could just be that there are a lot of new people that are homeless," she said. "And I suspect that it's a lot of the latter."

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