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NE Florida unsheltered homeless population spikes as state and local leaders search for solutions

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — The unsheltered homeless population in Northeast Florida saw a major increase over the past year.

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That’s according to early numbers out of the annual Point-in-Time count.

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According to the report, the unsheltered homeless population in Northeast Florida jumped from 396 individuals in 2023 to 567 this year.

That’s a 43 percent year-over-year spike.

“It is very concerning. These are the most visible and the most vulnerable people who are experiencing homelessness,” said Dawn Gilman with Changing Homelessness, that organization tasked with conducting the annual Point-in-Time report.

Dawn Gilman with Changing Homelessness, the organization that conducts the annual Point-in-Time count, explained the region’s homeless population has returned roughly to pre-pandemic levels.

READ: Some say local homeless camps go beyond just the litter they leave behind

“We’re unsure if COVID masked some of the folks or if we’re going to see even larger increases as we continue forward,” said Gilman.

Councilmember Joe Carlucci (R-District 5), who is leading the Jacksonville City Council’s Special Committee on Homelessness & Affordable Housing, noted the city recently established a new commission to investigate best practices to address the homeless issue and committed more than $1 million to the effort.

“We want to get them help. We want to get them resources. We want to get them off the streets,” said Carlucci.

The new numbers come as local leaders are beginning to dig through state legislation that would require local governments to crackdown on public camping and sleeping, or else risk civil lawsuits from impacted businesses

The bill authorizes counties to designate public grounds with running water, sanitation and security where camping would be allowed.

READ: Jacksonville council introduces $1 million for homeless trust fund

The intent is to congregate the unsheltered population in a central location to help better connect them with resources.

With the Governor soon expected to sign the legislation, local leaders are already beginning to discuss how to move forward.

“We’re just trying to figure out where and how right now,” said Carlucci.

With no funding included in the bill, Gilman estimated it could cost Northeast Florida counties a total of $15 million per-year to establish and house the region’s unsheltered population in camps.

READ: Jacksonville leaders holding special meeting on tackling homelessness

She said she hopes local leaders think creatively and consider other possible solutions as well.

“Would it be better that we invest it in some sort of deeply affordable housing? Different units scattered throughout our county. So, there’s a lot to look at with this,” said Gilman.

The Governor has until next Tuesday at act on the bill.

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Once signed, local governments will have until October 1st to flesh out a plan.

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