Published: Jan 28, 2011 5:12 AM EST
Updated: Jan 28, 2011 1:52 AM EST

NAPLES, Fla. - Homelessness is on the rise as families struggle to cope with the economy. In the last year, the number of children without homes rose 50% in Collier County.

Thursday, officials and volunteers spent the day counting the current population and helping get them on track.

The definition of homelessness is expanding. Chronically homeless make up only 18% of the homeless population, according to the National Alliance to End Homelessness.  Now, that definition includes those at imminent risk of being on the streets.

"Doubled-up families, people in crowded living situations told they have to leave, they cant stay, often those are people who have lost jobs and are just trying to hang on," Executive Director of Hunger and Homeless Coalition of Collier County Debi Mahr said.

From dawn to dusk, volunteers conducted the annual homeless count, asking where they live, how long they've been homeless and how they got there. The most common response?

"The economy," Katie Burrows, David Lawrence Mental Health Court Coordinator said. "They've lost their jobs, a lot of these people are homeless. Most people I interviewed were 3-6 months which really surprised me."

The count of homeless children in Collier County jumped more than 50% from last year - from 814 to 1360 - and that number continues to rise.  Those who stopped by St. Matthews House in Naples were offered haircuts, clothing, meals and medical screenings.

"I can not go to a doctor because it's really expensive," Karen Virviescas said, who stopped by for a vision screening. "The last time I went, it was like, 300-something just because my stomach hurt."

While these updated numbers help bring much-needed funding, this was an opportunity to connect with those who all too often feel disconnected.
"It's hard,"Jonathon Hargrove said, who is homeless. "It's very hard. But you know, the sun is still shining, there is always hope, tomorrow always brings another chance."

401 people were reported as homeless in Collier County last January during the annual homeless count. We'll let you know this year's numbers as soon as they're released.