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Counting the homeless

By BY SONNY LONG - SLONG@VICAD.COM
Jan. 28, 2010 at 7 p.m.
Updated Jan. 28, 2010 at 7:29 p.m.

Barbara Haley, with VISD's Kids Connection, interviews a family at Regency Inn of Victoria.

YOUNGEST VICTIMS

More than 500 children have been identified as homeless in the Victoria school district so far this school year.

Mary Post of KIDZ Connection, a service of the school district, presented those numbers to the Victoria Homeless Coalition on Thursday.

Post reported that the district has had 503 homeless students so far this school year compared to only 348 at the same time last year. In addition, 47 more children who weren't yet enrolled in school were identified as homeless.

"So it's 550 total," Post said. "It's unbelievable. Sometimes it's an inadequate or unsafe situation."

Post explained that for educational purposes, the definition of a homeless child differs from the Housing and Urban Development guidelines. For children to be considered homeless, they have to be living in a shelter, in a motel, be unsheltered or doubled up with others for financial reasons.

"We want the kids to succeed in school. It's hard to learn if you are without a home, or hungry or cold," Post said.

KIDZ Connection is an active participant in the Victoria Homeless Coalition.

For more information call 361-788-9905.

WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO BE HOMELESS?

Housing & Urban Development Definition of Homeless

A person is considered homeless only when he or she resides one of the places described below:

In places not meant for human habitation such as cars, parks, sidewalks and abandoned buildings.

In an emergency shelter.

In transitional or supportive housing for homeless persons who originally came from the streets or emergency shelters.

In any of the above places, but is spending a short time (up to 30 days) in a hospital or other institution.

Is being evicted within a week from a private dwelling unit and no subsequent residence has been identified and the person lacks the resources needed to obtain housing.

Is being discharged within a week from an institution, such as mental health or substance abuse facility, jail or prison in which has person has been a resident for more than 30 days and no subsequent residence has been identified and the person lacks the resources needed to obtain housing.

Is fleeing a domestic violence situation and no subsequent residence has been identified and the person lacks the resources needed to obtain housing.

VICTORIA HOMELESS COUNTS

2004 -124

2005 -191

2006 -359

2007 -487

2009 -217 *

*: Victoria County and Calhoun County only. Does not include other counties. No count was held in 2008.

A small tear-drop tattoo adorns Charles Jenkins' cheek near his left eye. But the 60-year-old homeless man isn't crying about his plight.

"I've been looking for work for more than a year," said Jenkins, who was released from state jail in San Antonio in January 2009.

He got a bus ticket to Rockport, where a friend put him up for a short time.

"I was planning on doing some oyster work, but there just wasn't any," he said.

Jenkins, who grew up in Corpus Christi, said he has hitchhiked back and forth between Houston and Dallas looking for work and even went as far as Little Rock, Ark., Nashville, Tenn., and Atlanta, Ga.

"I've worked in the oil field all my life. I just can't find any work. Anywhere. Of any kind," said Jenkins, who has also worked on a shrimp boat, done roofing and dry wall and welding.

Jenkins said he has a sleeping bag and a backpack with a few belongings and clothes. He has been sleeping in an aluminum out building for about a month.

"I sleep wherever I can, any place that's out of the wind and rain." he said. He is no longer close to his grown children on the East coast.

Jenkins' story is not unusual. In 2009, more than 200 homeless people were identified in Victoria and Calhoun counties, a number expected to be exceeded this year.

On Thursday members of the Victoria Area Homeless Coalition, KIDZ Connection and about 100 volunteers took to the streets to count the homeless.

The Homeless Coalition, which has conducted five homeless counts since 2004, is made up of representatives from about three dozen area agencies that provide social services to those in need.

Many of the volunteers for the 2010 count came from Northside Baptist Church and Parkway Baptist Church.

The Department of Housing and Urban Development uses the count numbers to help determine future grant funding for area agencies that provide assistance to the homeless.

Counts were also held in Calhoun County, Cuero, Gonzales, Edna, Austwell-Tivoli, Hallettsville and Goliad.

Count workers in Victoria actually began Wednesday night, hitting a couple of locations known to provide shelter for the homeless. About 5 a.m. Thursday, coalition members made contact with about a dozen homeless men at Labor Ready looking for work.

Volunteers also spread out to local libraries as well as motels along the Houston Highway. Known and rumored homeless encampments were also checked.

Residents at the El Torreón Apartments, who have been without water for about five days, were also approached about their plans for relocating if it becomes necessary.

The count included a required survey that volunteers fill out with the personent, as well as coats, blankets, and a voucher for a night's motel stay in some cases.

Goodie bags of fruit, snacks, soap and shampoo were handed out as well as boxes of food, including canned meat and other non-perishable food items. Northside Baptist Church provided the food boxes.

"We're trying to cast a very large net and capture everyone," said Ginny Stafford, chief executive officer of Mid-Coast Family Services, another coalition member. "This problem is bigger than Mid-Coast, or Perpetual Help Home, or the Red Cross, or the Salvation Army, or any one agency. It's going to take a community effort with not only these agencies, but also businesses, government and the schools."

"The beauty of the coalition is we have such a diversity," Stafford said. "We all have a different perspective on homelessness, but when we get together there are basic issues of affordable, adequate, safe housing."

Keith Rucker, a case worker for Crossroads Youth and Family Services, helps coordinate the volunteer effort. He agreed that the homeless problem will take a wide-sweeping effort.

"This affects the whole community," Rucker said. "When we have people out there who don't have a place to live. It's important we come together to get those people off the streets and into a home."

Jeff Williams, president of Family Promise of Victoria who has been involved with the last three counts, said that the joint effort is vital.

"It's such a big problem, no one agency can handle it. It has to be an effort of all agencies working in conjunction. That's what the coalition does very well is bring people together in a group that works toward the same end result," he said.

Rucker also emphasized how important the homeless count is.

"We don't want to miss anyone," he said. "A lot of homeless families out there need our help. Doing the count brings in additional funding to help that population. It's very important to get a good count."

Jim Welvaert, president of the coalition who heads up the homeless program at Mid-Coast Family Services, told coalition members Thursday, "One thing we all need to be aware of is how many people are hanging on by their fingers, trying to make it. It's a big problem. It's really tough right now."

For Jenkins, things weren't as tough Thursday night. He qualified for a voucher for a free overnight motel stay.

"I'm shocked. I guess Victoria's all right. I keep coming back here," he said. "This is a blessing."

At least for one night.

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