• Living on the edge: Homelessness hiding in Clay County

    By: Mark Spain


    CLAY COUNTY, Fla. - Blanding Boulevard is far from a road less traveled, with thousands traveling it every day.    

    There's bumper-to-bumper traffic and an endless maze of signals.    

    In fact, there are so many distractions around that most never stop to notice the dozens of families living life on the edge. 

    "I live in my 2000 Dodge Grand Caravan. I have my clothes. I have my daughter's clothes and then I have her personal effects back there," said Richard Carlisle. 

    Carlisle is homeless in Clay County and living in a shopping center parking lot. His daughter lives here too. She's 14. 

    "It sucks because you're supposed to be somebody your kids look up to and I'm not living that job. I'm not doing that job," he said.  "It breaks my heart. I can't give her what she wants, what she needs."      

    He and his daughter are not alone.     

    In Clay County, it's estimated one in five families live below the federal poverty guideline.     

    It means many of them are one missed paycheck away from being where other homeless people live. Some local service agencies help families get rooms at local motels. One mother Action News spoke with didn't want us to use her name.  

    "Sometimes I don't even feel like I'm a real mom.  I feel like a failure," the woman told me.      

    Things are especially tough for her 17-year-old daughter. "I've never been to a prom, house party. I don't have a driver's license. Don't know how to drive. Don't go nowhere basically," she said.      

    Nonprofits like Mercy Support Services in Clay County try to help families.

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    But money only goes so far. Far too many families slip through the cracks. 

    "Because Clay County is so rural, there's lots of people who can disguise their homelessness in parking lots and even in camps in the woods," said Patrick Hayle with Mercy Support Services.      

    But there's no disguising Carlisle's pain.     

    It's the disabled Navy vet and his daughter against the world while they live out of their mini-van in a parking lot along Blanding. 

    "She tells me every day, she says, daddy it's going to be ok. We'll make it through," Carlisle said. 

    To reach Mercy Support Services, call (904) 297-4052 or visit their website.


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