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More and more people are finding themselves living paycheck to paycheck in the greater Tampa Bay region. In some places, rent has doubled. The cost of everyday goods — like gas and groceries — keeps creeping up. All the while, wages lag behind and the affordable housing crisis looms. Amid cost-of-living increases, WUSF is focused on documenting how people are making ends meet.

Hillsborough County conducts its annual homeless count

five people standing together wearing Tampa Hillsborough Homeless Initiative T-shirts
Gabriella Paul
/
WUSF Public Media
Tampa Hillsborough Homeless Initiative CEO Antoinette Hayes-Triplett (center) stands in front of her team at Sparkman Wharf in Channelside, which served as the command center for the 2023 Point-In-Time (PIT) homeless count.

The annual Point-In-Time count, which is required by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, provides a snapshot of homelessness in the community.

Royce Nash has lived in Florida for about two decades.

For the past four years in Hillsborough County, he’s been homeless.

“I was gonna move out of Florida once I get my stuff together, maybe on an island somewhere,” he said.

Nash, who is a Black, disabled veteran, spent the night at the bus stop on the corner of MacDill and Swann Avenue.

He is one of more than 800 people who were surveyed by the Tampa Hillsborough Housing Initiative during the annual Point-In-Time (PIT) count for Hillsborough County, according to preliminary data.

The data collection, which is required by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, provides a snapshot of homelessness in the community and influences the distribution of federal housing assistance.

On Thursday, more than 300 volunteers canvassed Hillsborough County in two shifts – from 7 a.m. to 12 p.m. and 3 p.m. to 8 p.m. – to survey individuals and families living without shelter.

A group of five volunteers canvassed a zone near downtown Tampa for the annual homeless count organized by THHI. Left to right: Jay Brainbridge, Jim Shirk, Elizabeth Roman, Heba Goodwin and Nicholas Bennett.
Gabriella Paul
/
WUSF Public Media
A group of five volunteers canvassed a zone near downtown Tampa for the annual homeless count organized by THHI. Left to right: Jay Bainbridge, Jim Shirk, Elizabeth Roman, Heba Goodwin and Nicholas Bennett.

Jim Shirk was among a group of five volunteers on the morning shift assigned to cover a one-mile block near West Tampa.

He’s volunteered with the annual homeless count for a few years.

He said that while the PIT count provides essential data to organizations working to end homelessness, it also provides him an opportunity to meet his neighbors who are living without shelter.

At around 9 a.m., Shirk surveyed Royce Nash while the heavy traffic on MacDill Avenue whirred by.

“He’s a veteran, and I’m a veteran. And I really – whenever I meet a homeless veteran, I think that could be me,” Shirk said.

Looking at the raw data collected on Thursday, Tampa Hillsborough Homeless Initiative director Antoinette Hayes-Triplett said that she’s particularly concerned about veterans and residents over the age of 62.

In 2022, Hayes-Triplett saidthe county saw a 67 percent increasein the number of seniors requesting homeless services.

She is also wary that last year’s historic cost-of-living increases in Hillsborough County have pushed middle-income residents out of housing.

“We are seeing an increased number of essential service workers sleeping in their cars, such as teachers with their children [and] people that work for the local government,” she said.

The PIT count data, which has to be cleaned and finalized, is set to publish in May.

Learn more about the Tampa Hillsborough Homeless Initiative and how to donate to an ongoing campaign to end homelessness here.

Gabriella Paul covers the stories of people living paycheck to paycheck in the greater Tampa Bay region for WUSF. She's also a Report for America corps member. Here’s how you can share your story with her.

I tell stories about living paycheck to paycheck for public radio at WUSF News. I’m also a corps member of Report For America, a national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms.