Collier County is known for the glitz and glamour of downtown Naples, but many in the county are unaware that homelessness has increased by 52% over the past year, especially among youth and the elderly.
That percentage comes from St. Matthew’s House, and children are among the most impacted.
“Homelessness is up staggeringly,” said Ray Steadman, vice president of programs at St. Matthew’s House.
Steadman says it breaks his heart to see the rate of homelessness going up so quickly.
“Last week, we had 34 mothers with children on our waitlist,” Steadman said. “We have eight rooms, so when you think about the amount of need and the availability we have, there are so many more moms with children that are living on the street.”
Steadman also says St. Matthew’s House has seen homelessness impact Collier County’s senior population. The most alarming part of the data: 1,289 of the homeless people counted by the point-in-time snapshot were schoolchildren.
Linda Goldfield, CEO of Youth Haven, says the group is at or almost at capacity in some of its programs. She tells WINK News the youngest homeless people at Youth Haven are children under 10.
“Living in their cars, couch-surfing, multiple teens in a unit without a guardian or, in fact, living in the woods… we are seeing more referrals from the schools,” Goldfield said. “As families are struggling to make ends meet, they’re finding themselves homeless or turning to alcohol or drugs and aren’t able to provide for their children, and children are being removed from their homes.”
Rob’s Cottage is one of the Youth Haven programs helping homeless kids 16 through 21. Goldfield says the program prepares them to have successful futures.
“Working, saving 70% of their savings, teaching them life skills that prepare them for independence: How to secure a credit card, how to open a checking account, when [do you] secure an apartment, how to be a good neighbor, how to prepare a meal, cook with what’s in the refrigerator,” Goldfield said.
Goldfield says Youth Haven is trying to build a sixth cottage because of the growing need for housing and hopes to have it done by sometime this year.