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Making the homeless count

Sonny Long

By Sonny Long
Jan. 27, 2011 at 10:05 p.m.
Updated Jan. 26, 2011 at 7:27 p.m.

Ignacio Torres, 61, sits on the tailgate of his pick-up truck, which also serves as his home. Every night, Torres re-arranges the small cramped space in the truck's bed to make room for a place to sleep. Dozens of volunteers with the Victoria Area Homeless Coalition were asking the homeless to complete surveys Thursday during the annual homeless count.

Ignacio Torres' prayer is for somewhere to live other than his truck.

For more than six months, he has parked the truck every night in the lot of a local business, crawled into the camper back and called it home.

"I hope the future brings some kind of housing," he said. "All I can do is pray and hope for the best."

Torres, who lost his job in the oil field after an injury, is also battling diabetes.

"That's what causes my biggest problem, diabetes," said the 61-year-old.

"Where I was living had to be torn down and I haven't found another place yet," he said. "Money has a lot to do with it. That's the main thing."

Help for Torres and the other homeless in the Crossroads comes from numerous agencies and their assistance programs.

Funding for some of these programs comes from the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development which requires an annual homeless count to verify the need.

That count was held Thursday in Victoria.

Dozens of volunteers for the Victoria Area Homeless Coalition, some starting as early as 5:30 a.m. at Labor Ready, spread out across Victoria asking the homeless to complete surveys, as well as providing sack lunches, goodie bags with snacks and hygiene products, coats, blankets and gym bags with warm-up suits and windbreakers.

The count continued until 7 p.m. and included Christ's Kitchen, Victoria Christian Alliance Ministry, four motels and the Victoria Public Library. Volunteers also scoured known and rumored homeless encampments.

Volunteers in the motel count included members of the Central Church of Christ. Members of Trinity Episcopal Church made about 400 sandwiches that were distributed.

The Victoria Area Homeless Coalition is made up of more than 30 member agencies and volunteers from those groups also stepped up to volunteer.

"It's important so we can help others, the ones that need us," said Nancy Sanchez of Gulf Bend Center as she loaded a car with sack lunches prior to heading out to help with the count.

"It's very important so we can get funding to help the people that need help," said co-worker Angie McPherson. "We need to get an accurate count, so that's why we are all out here doing this."

Homeless counts began in Victoria in 2004. There was no count in 2008.

This year marked the first time the count was conducted mostly during daylight hours, a tactic organizers hope will help locate more of the homeless.

"They are often hard to find," said Cheryl Miller, of Perpetual Help Home, who has been involved in every local count. "It's not that they are not there, it's finding them on that one particular day."

Ginny Stafford, of Mid-Coast Family Services, who did interviews at Labor Ready Thursday morning, said those who receive food and other items have similar reactions.

"Totally grateful. We have not come upon a person who was not very thankful, very appreciative," Stafford said. "One of the things that's very touching is they'll stop and talk to us because they are concerned about other people in the same boat. They'll tell us to go find their friend who could use some help, too."

Torres' needs, like many of the homeless, are often simple.

After receiving a sleeping bag and other items at Christ's Kitchen, Torres asked for and received a couple of bars of soap.

"I hope the weather warms up so I can take a bath in the river," he said. "Right now it's very cold."



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