Andrew Rivera sat down between two volunteers late Thursday morning to answer questions about being homeless in Victoria.
Rivera, a native to the area, said he is “floating here and there and everywhere,” and is currently staying at a friend’s house while he searches for ways to get help. Eventually, he said, he hopes to find permanent, stable housing.
“Being without my own place to live, some days aren’t that bad, but it’s never good, either,” he said. “It’s tough.”
As Rivera shared his story at Christ’s Kitchen, the two volunteers recorded his information for the annual Point-in-Time count, a census designed to count the number of people experiencing homelessness as part of a nationwide effort to capture a snapshot of homelessness in America.
The annual, one-day effort is mandated by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, which uses the data to decide how it allocates funding to combat homelessness in communities across the nation. Locally, volunteers counted individuals in Victoria, Calhoun, Gonzales, Refugio and Jackson counties.
The purpose of the count is to secure more funding for area resources and services to assist the homeless, said Jim Welvaert, who works part-time at Mid-Coast Family Services and surveyed those at Christ’s Kitchen on Thursday.
“We try and get out and count as many people as we can,” he said.
In between conducting surveys at Victoria Christian Assistance Ministry on Thursday morning, Yvonne Rossman Ramos, Victoria Independent School District’s homeless liaison, reflected on why the count is important. It was her eighth year volunteering.
“The results bring a needed awareness to our community,” she said. “Despite what some people think or what they believe, we do need affordable housing, we do have people struggling with homelessness.”
And, Rossman Ramos continued, it’s an opportunity for people to hear the stories of others in the community that they might not usually interact with.
“These people, they’re not just numbers,” she said. “This gives us a chance to sit and really get to know people who are homeless because they all deserve a voice.”
The surveys were done on a mobile app as well as on paper. The information taken on the app will go to the Texas Homeless Network, a nonprofit membership-based organization that helps communities strategically plan to prevent and end homelessness, said Ginny Stafford, the executive director of Mid-Coast Family Services.
The information kept on paper will be compiled and sorted through locally, Stafford said, and afterward, the results will be presented to the public.
Throughout the day, some volunteers were accompanied by producers with CBS News, which Stafford said came to Victoria to highlight the Point-in-Time count through the lens of a small Texas town. She said the Texas Homeless Network recommended CBS News film in Victoria.
Sadie Swannegan was another area resident who said she is homeless and took part in the count Thursday. It’s not her first time being homeless, she said, but because she’s been able to stay with a friend, she counts herself lucky.
“I’ve seen people with even less places to go than me, and the vast majority of them eventually give up,” she said. “I have faith that I’ll have a stable home. I’m a hard worker.”
Swannegan said she hopes to afford her own place soon, and is in the process of applying for housing. She said she is thankful for the assistance she’s received from Be Well Victoria.
Stafford said she expected the homeless numbers this year to be “pretty consistent” with the numbers collected in years past. Usually, she said, about 100 to 150 people are counted who report living on the streets, and an additional 50 people are counted who are living in shelters.
Stafford said this year more people seemed willing to share openly about their situations than in years past, because, she said, homelessness has become more of a topic of discussion in the community.
But, she said, despite the number of volunteers working to get an accurate count, even efforts such as the Point-in-Time count don’t show a true reflection of the homeless situation.
“There are so many challenges for people on the streets, and a lot of people are hiding and won’t be counted,” she said. “And a lot of times the people hiding are the ones that need these services the most.”
Rivera said he remains hopeful about his situation. He said he plans to apply for housing through different resources available in Victoria and is struggling to get started. He was happy to take part in the count Thursday, he said, because “the more people they count, the more help that will come.”
“And we all need the help we can get,” he said.