Annual count tallies Pasco's down-and-out
By Eddie Daniels | Tribune StaffNEW PORT RICHEY - Nine years ago, David Gibson had a different life.
Published: January 31, 2013
Published: January 31, 2013
He worked on a fishing boat that caught grouper in the Gulf and docked in New Port Richey.
Before that job, he worked as a shrimper. Before that, he was a pipe layer.
Today, the Palm Harbor native is jobless and lives in a 5-by-5-foot shed on the edge of a wooded area in New Port Richey's Moon Lake community. His front door is a thick, gray blanket affixed across the entrance of the white, weather-beaten shed.
Gibson, 55, is just one of thousands of destitute people volunteers from The Coalition for the Homeless of Pasco County spoke to Wednesday in an effort to tabulate the county's homeless population. It's a project they call a Point in Time count.
According to a January 2011 count by the coalition, 4,442 people were homeless that year. Of those, 413 were children. The number of chronically homeless — those without a home for a year or more — increased from 1,141 in 2008 to 1,585 in 2011.
Gibson was asked about the hardest part of his life as a homeless person. "Waking up in the mornings," he said. "Because you know you have to do it all over again. You just got to go day by day."
Anna Grover is the outreach coordinator for the coalition. In addition to coordinating the homeless count during the past two years, she also has been known to give those in need rides or hotel vouchers or food and drink.
"It's bringing hope to people, it really is," said Grover, standing with her daughter, Grace Grover. "If you can take one person, even just to the drugstore, just that little piece you can give them, honestly, they light up.
"I love hope. If people have hope, they can wake up tomorrow and start all over again," she said.
About 37 volunteers from Saint Leo University, Pasco-Hernando Community College as well as others in the community fanned out across the county to tally homeless people for the project.
In the past, volunteers would venture into the woods and enter homeless camps. Now that plan has been altered because some homeless people use dogs to guard their belongings.
To avoid the potential danger, many volunteers were sent to outreach locations where homeless people could come to be counted. Only a few volunteers sought out homeless people living in camps.
The homeless numbers will be used to secure federal grants to aid local programs that assist the homeless. Grover expects the numbers from the count to be finalized in about six weeks.
Grover said she and her daughter divided the 742-square-mile county into manageable squares and, as their volunteer pool increased, those volunteers took on the parcels.
Standing in the wooded area near Gibson's shed, Carolyn Derrick held out her right arm to show a bruise she said she suffered in a recent beating by an ex-boyfriend. She escaped the relationship and has taken shelter in a tent provided by Gibson.
"I don't know what I'd do without him," Derrick, 41, said of Gibson. "I'd have nowhere to rest my head. I feel like he dropped from heaven. A godsend. I still don't know what I'd do without him."
She said she has temporary work, but is hoping to transition into her own home and a full-time job.
Gibson, sporting denim overalls with just the left shoulder cinched and a gray Chicago Bears sweatshirt underneath, has lived in his makeshift home past 18 months, he said.
Nine years ago, his wife died, followed by his grandson and then his daughter. After their deaths, he sold his truck and then lost his New Port Richey home on Marley Avenue after he was unable to pay the property tax.
He relies on the Volunteer Way organization for his meals, showers and his home. His shelter is just steps behind the organization's Moon Lake Road building.
Lester Cypher is CEO of Volunteer Way, which has five locations in the county. Lester, 77, said he once was a slumlord in Long Island, N.Y. He said he had plenty of money, spent most of his days drunk and wasn't concerned about others.
A heart attack and a religious shift brought about a change.
"I have an urgency to go forward," said Cypher, who started his first outreach organization in 1992. "I can't stand still. I see the need out there. I see so many people hurting and now with the economy so bad, a lot of women come in for help. They're crying; they're embarrassed. I said I can't let that go. That's what got me into it and that's what changed my heart."
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