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Tuesday, July 23, 2024

Homelessness decreasing, available beds increasing in Marion County

The Ocala Office of Homelessness Prevention says the homeless population has decreased and the number of available beds has increased in Marion County from last year, with the most recent count showing approximately 378 homeless individuals and 870 beds in the area.

On Tuesday, James Haynes of the city’s Community Development Services department provided the second quarterly update for OHP during the Ocala City Council’s regular meeting at City Hall.

According to Haynes, a point in time count of the homeless individuals across the county was conducted on January 23, 2024. The count shows a snapshot of the county’s homeless population at that point in time, including individuals both in and out of shelters.

This year, 378 homeless individuals were found throughout the county. That represents a 16.7% decrease from last year’s count, when the county found 454 homeless individuals in the area.

Overall, the number of homeless individuals in Marion County has steadily decreased since 2021. During the count that year, at least 512 individuals were reportedly living in homelessness across the county.

In addition to the decrease in overall homeless individuals, the number of unsheltered homeless individuals decreased from 220 in 2023 to 201 in 2024. Unsheltered individuals are those living in the most extreme circumstances.

Total number of homeless individuals in Marion County (2021 - 2024)
Total number of homeless individuals in Marion County from 2021 – 2024 (Photo: City of Ocala)

Haynes attributed the larger number of homeless individuals, both sheltered and unsheltered, in 2021 to the COVID-19 pandemic. He suggested that the city has taken extraordinary efforts in the years since to empower local organizations addressing serving the homeless in the county.

During his presentation, Haynes noted that, among those living in completely unsheltered conditions, including “in the woods,” there were more men than women. More women stay at shelters than men, according to Haynes.

The data also showed that the number of chronically homeless individuals in the county has decreased dramatically over the past several years. In 2021, there were 156 individuals considered chronically homeless in the county. This year, only 72 individuals were reported as chronically homeless.

Chronically homeless in Ocala
The city has seen a large decrease in the number of chronically homeless individuals since 2021. (Photo: City of Ocala)

According to Haynes, the city was able to house 51 individuals who were chronically homeless using emergency vouchers obtained through the Ocala Housing Authority from the federal government.

With the vouchers, the chronically homeless, or those who are homeless for more than a year, will be ensured housing for at least nine years.

In addition to securing longterm housing, Haynes says the city is “working with” those individuals to “get them resources to help them be sustainable beyond” the 9-year duration of the voucher.

According to Haynes, the number of beds available across the city increased from 804 in 2023 to 870 in 2024. This year’s numbers, which were reported by the providers themselves, showed a slight decrease in emergency shelter beds and overflow beds, and an increase in the number of “rapid re-housing beds.”

In response to a question from councilmembers after his presentation, Haynes provided clarification on the number of beds that are available and the number of homeless, specifying that some people may not “quality” because of previous violations or restrictions.