Addressing Lee County’s increase in homelessness

Photo: WINK News

Anyone can lose the roof above their head, by simply losing their job or something like piling medical debt after an emergency.

The Lee County Homeless Coalition say homelessness in the county rose by almost 10 percent in the last two years, even though the economy is growing at record pace.

According to the Department of Housing and Urban Development, the homeless population nationwide increased for the second year in a row, after seven straight years of decline.

“Things can happen overnight in a person’s life,” said Janet Bartos who runs the Lee County Homeless Coalition. “We never know what tomorrow is going to bring, an accident, loss of a job. So all of these things come into play.”

She says much of the problem comes from skyrocketing rent prices that often comes with a strong economy.

“When their lease is up, and the landlord increases it, they just can’t afford to live there anymore,” she said.

That’s what happened to Robin Wiggins who has been homeless since May.

“Some of the landlords, just because they think you are unacceptable, they raise your rent,” Wiggins said.

Terryn Streets from the Salvation Army says the problem can also be traced to the slow growth of wages.

“Well number one is the cost of living. And that is steadily increasing And though we do now have the onset of jobs being available, they are not high paying jobs,” she said.

Jerry Stewart says he’s been looking for a place for years, but can’t find anything in his price range. And since the average wait time for local shelters is 30 days, he’s been living in his car.

“I’ve been trying to get a place for so long and it’s still hard for me to get a place,” Steward said.

So what can be done to address this? Local leaders say in the short term, there need to be more shelters. And in the long term, there need to be more options.

“Homelessness can happen to anyone, because you’re just one crisis away from not being able to make that payment,” Streets said.

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