Counting homeless people in SWFL since Hurricane Ian

Published: January 24, 2023 5:41 PM EST

The destruction of Ian cost so many people their homes or jobs in Southwest Florida, and it’s intensified the already massive affordable housing crisis.

Social workers are out across Southwest Florida, completing what’s called a ‘pit’ count, which means counting the number of homeless people.

Homeless set ups in Lions Park. CREDIT: WINK News

The first goal is to estimate the number of homeless in Southwest Florida, which is problematic because it’s an ever-changing number.

Walking through Lions Park, you’ll see playground equipment, shopping cars full of belongings, black trash bags full of clothes, and people resting on benches.

“My life is so crazy you couldn’t write a book about it,” Josh Ushellett, a homeless man WINK News spoke with at the park.

“I gotta smile… Please forgive my language, but I gotta smile about this s***,” Ushellett said.

“I go to the labor pool, and I make my sixty bucks a day,” Ushellett said.

Ask anyone, and you’ll see that 60$ a day isn’t getting you very far. Tuesday, Ushellett was part of the annual pit count for 22 years in a row.

“Since I was 15, I went from football basketball scholarship… Somehow to this,” Ushellet said.

But not everyone at Lions Park is a regular.

Sitting in the park. CREDIT: WINK News

“There’s a lot of new guys, and I’m [sic] off cause they’re sleeping in my spots,” Ushellett said.

“We’ve seen a lot more development, which means individuals who maybe were living in wooded areas are now being pushed out onto the streets and becoming more visible. Obviously, Hurricane Ian came through recently, that’s going to have an impact not only individuals who are already experiencing homelessness but we also know that there are people that lost their homes as a result of Hurricane. And then we also have massive affordable housing crisis,” Thomas Felke, a professor of social work at FGCU, said.

Felke coordinates groups of students to come out and conduct the count. While counting, they also interview people asking why they’re homeless.

“I wasn’t homeless during the hurricane. After the hurricane, this all… This is the effect of that,” Kaccia McCoy said.

McCoy told WINK News her apartment is damaged beyond repair.

WINK News asked McCoy where she was sleeping at night.

“Back of churches. Sometimes the steps of churches,” McCoy said.

Then McCoy explained what it’s like at night for her.

“If you’re not trying to stay warm, you’re trying to stay safe. And safe is the best,” McCoy said.

Professor Felke said he believes his students will find that many people say they’re homeless because of the hurricane.