January 25, 2022
In The Public Interest
Crystal Vann, 39 and homeless, takes a break from mashing sweet potatoes for Christmas dinner at the Murray Hill home where she has temporary shelter.

Homeless for the Holidays:

 Changing Demographics and Economy Drive Homeless Numbers in Jacksonville

About 1,869 people in Jacksonville will spend the holiday season living on the streets, but new trends in demographics and the economy obscure the extent of the homeless issue on the First Coast.

Dawn Gilman of Changing Homelessness provided Jaxlookout with their report, The Streets Don’t Lie: 2018 August Surge (Link). According to the report, official Point-in-Time counts of homeless individuals and families have dwindled from about 3,200 in 2010 to 1,869 as of August 2018. 

However, the trends identified by Changing Homelessness and others suggest these numbers don’t begin to quantify the true scope of the problem. 

Changing Demographics

Unaccompanied Homeless Youth

One concerning trend is a significant jump in unaccompanied homeless youth, according to the local Point-in-Time and Surge counts conducted by Changing Homelessness. 

Gilman’s report said, “From 2017 to 2018, the Point-In-Time showed a 65% increase for youth living on the streets while the Surge revealed a shocking 145% increase during the same period.”

The streets of our Urban Core are home to 24 youth, two live at the Beaches, and one lives in Riverside, according to the report.

More Homeless Students

The University of Florida’s Shimberg Center for Housing Studies, in partnership with Miami Homes for All, has studied housing issues statewide. Their researchers used public school data to demonstrate from 2012 to 2017, the number of homeless students identified in Duval County schools more than doubled from 1,322 to 3,348, with 81% of these students living in doubled up households. 

Corroborating this finding for Jacksonville, the Changing Homelessness report explained, “The families with children sub-population does not present during the Surge as we are counting the unsheltered.”

To read more about the Shimberg Center’s research on the impact of homelessness on children, download fact sheets and reports, and explore interactive maps of Florida schools and homeless student counts, go to Shimberg Center for Housing Studies – Children and Youth.

First Coast Schools with at Least 10 Homeless Students: First Coast Schools with at Least 50 Homeless Students:
Blue dots represent schools with at least 10 homeless students, which are pervasive throughout Duval County and the surrounding area (2017 data). 
Source: Online Schools Mapping Tool
Blue dots represent schools with at least 50 homeless students, which can be found in Arlington, Southside, Lakewood, Orange Park, Riverside, and the Urban Core (2017 data). 
Source: Online Schools Mapping Tool

Changing Economy

Anne Ray, of the University of Florida’s Shimberg Center for Housing Studies, provided a Report on Homelessness and Education in Florida which indicates that family housing instability is driven by a number of factors:

  • “Unemployment and underemployment
    • Includes families moving to FL to look for work
    • Need for education and job skills
    • Lack of affordable, reliable transportation
  • Disability, addiction, and health problems
  • History of evictions and poor credit”

In addition to the complexities of personal economics, “Lack of affordable rental housing is a key factor in family homelessness,” says the Homelessness and Education report. “The number of families in need is growing in Florida. The number of affordable units is not.” 

According to the Homelessness and Education report, “Affordable family units (2+ bedrooms) are in short supply, and most are occupied by higher income or non-family households. Apartments at fair market rent are far out of reach for minimum-wage and other low-wage workers.”

One of the key findings reported by Ray in her research on Florida’s Affordable Housing Needs states, “There are only 31 affordable and available rental units for every 100 extremely low-income (<30% AMI) renter households.”

As of 2017, about 50% of Jacksonville renter households are cost burdened and 28% of Jacksonville homeowners are cost burdened. Source: Graphic provided by Anne Ray of the University of Florida’s Shimberg Center for Housing Studies.

Local Household Doubling Up, and Then Some, for the Holidays

Homelessness is less visible when families and individuals are doubling up households, but the effects are devastating throughout Jacksonville, as scenarios like the following have become all too common:

It is Christmas Eve at a four-bedroom, two bath home on a quiet street in Murray Hill. The house is bustling with holiday preparations and entertaining visitors. 

The head of the household is a single mom with a daughter in fifth grade. Her older sister and two other 30-something adults each rent rooms in the home. It’s a good thing this group is well-practiced at harmonious communal living, because none were making ends meet on their own.

Crystal Vann, 39 and homeless, takes a break from mashing sweet potatoes for Christmas dinner at the Murray Hill home where she has temporary shelter.

Crystal Vann, 39, is one of two more adults who are sleeping there temporarily to stay off the streets. 

That’s five homeless adults in one household, none of which will be counted by Changing Homelessness, the Shimberg Center, or the Florida Department of Education. 

Vann has endured her share of stigma as a homeless woman. “A lot of people think women are homeless because we are drug addicts or prostitutes,” she said. “And there were also people thinking I was a prostitute because I am homeless. I would go hungry before I would do that.”

After her second marriage broke up, Vann’s life in Mississippi fell apart because she had been a stay-at-home mom with little recent work history. Vann had to rely on another family to house herself and her children. 

“I had a place to stay, but I left because of the way they treated my kids. They weren’t respectful to me or to my kids.”

Vann won’t say much about what happened next, except, “I felt my life was threatened.” She temporarily sent her two children to live with their respective fathers in other states and came to Jacksonville from Mississippi “a couple of months ago. They do more for the homeless here than they do in Mississippi.”

Before she came to the house in Murray Hill, Vann said she got to know many other homeless people. “A lot of women become homeless because they are abused and just have to leave. And the men I’ve met have had a lot of bad experiences, too. We need healing.”

Vann hopes to be reunited with her children in April, but for now, she is living day-to-day. “I’m smart, and I can work, but I have some obstacles,” she said. 

When asked what would be most helpful for her and other homeless people to recover, Vann said, “We just need more loving people around.”

Written by
Amy Cherie Copeland

Amy Cherie Copeland is a Jacksonville writer and editor who also works as an academic writing tutor at FSCJ. She recently presented her poetry in the Yellow House Surviving to Thriving exhibit, performed an original piece in the 2018 Coming Out Monologues, and published lead letters in the Times-Union on behalf of Women's March Florida - Jacksonville Chapter. Her feature on cancer survivor Mary Miller appears in Donna Hicken's (Deegan) The Good Fight (2004).

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  • The Census Bureau figures fir “Median Incomes” seem very inflated in a society trying to tier itself between the “In” and the “Out”, Red state/ Blue state contact game board politics have only aggravated the situation since Tim Russett’s time. Would a full-time load at minimum wage even generate the “median income” for renters? And that would be in a stable and non-disasterous society that seems to more daily slip away anyway.

  • Yes, I agree, Nancy. The “median incomes” can’t possibly be per job, I suspect they are per household. I want to write so much more on the topic of affordable housing, for example, on the need for each worker to have multiple jobs because wages are so low. This story also points to the need for more investigation into the actual numbers of unsheltered and sheltered homeless in Jacksonville. Thank you so much for offering your comments. We need interaction from citizens like you to make this site an integral part of the local news media.

Written by Amy Cherie Copeland

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