New approach needed to accurately measure homelessness

By the Advocate Editorial Board
Feb. 6, 2018 at 6:12 p.m.
Updated Feb. 7, 2018 at 6 a.m.

Growing up, Philip Smith had one fear - being homeless.

In a poignant guest column published Jan. 28, Smith discloses how that fear became a reality.

For those fortunate to never have experienced what it's like to hit rock bottom, read his words closely and pray you never end up alone without shelter.

So what are we as a nation doing to measure homelessness? The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development tracks homelessness each January by asking advocates across the country to conduct a point-in-time count. Sure, this sounds like a great way to see if the homeless prevention programs are working. But is that method really an effective way to measure homelessness?

The count documents individuals living on the streets and in shelters and leaves out the families who don't want to be considered homeless.

The Institute for Children, Poverty and Homelessness explores this topic in a recent commentary suggesting the country find a new approach to accurately measure homelessness and determine which social safety net programs work. Yes! Let's do that.

The New York City-based policy research organization says the best place to look would be the U.S. Department of Education, which has already been monitoring homelessness among public schools since 1987.

As required by federal law, schools have been documenting and providing a clearer picture of family homelessness for a while. These figures include families that have "doubled-up" in single-family dwellings or are bouncing from place to place. Think about it. Often these families are not out on Navarro Street holding signs, but their plight is just as crucial.

Yvonne Rossman-Ramos of Kidz Connection said there are more than 1,000 homeless students in the Victoria Independent School District. This means they do not have a fixed, regular and adequate nighttime residence. The results from the Point-in-Time count this year leave out all these families who don't have a stable roof over their heads.

The Victoria Area Homeless Coalition, which coordinates the count, found a total of 225 people in Victoria and Calhoun counties in need of permanent housing. They counted only 34 unsheltered adults in Victoria.

The recent warming shelters, opened by the coalition during harsh weather, assisted 64 people.

"It's not really reliable, but it's the best number we've got," said Ginny Stafford, executive director of Mid-Coast Family Services. These figures are necessary to qualify for federal funding, which has been shown to help the community. We were able to provide additional supportive housing units thanks to those HUD grants.

Mid-Coast, the homeless coalition, Kidz Connection and several other local organizations tirelessly work to aid those in need. Christ's Kitchen, the soup kitchen in Victoria that runs without direct federal funding, serves about 5,500 meals each month. Volunteers make lunch for anywhere between 100 and 300 people six days a week.

Visit Christ's Kitchen to witness kindness and compassion in action. You might see Victoria resident Dottie Mints handing out coats and snacks while you're there.

If we are ever going to enact a true change in our culture, we must find a more accurate way to measure the problem and encourage each other to take action. Pick up a shift at Christ's Kitchen or mark your calendar for next year's Point-in-Time count and sign up to be a volunteer.

This opinion reflects the views of the Victoria Advocate's editorial board.



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