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Documenting homelessness

 

Eduardo Valero often wonders where he will get his next meal.

“I have been homeless for three years now. I had financial problems,” Valero said last Thursday as he stood outside the Good Neighbor Settlement House in Brownsville.

Valero, who said he has bipolar disorder and is blind in his right eye, is one of many people surveyed last Thursday for the Point-in-Time count conducted by the City of Brownsville.

The Point-in-Time count is a survey of homeless individuals in the community that is conducted every Jan. 21 across the nation.

“Homelessness, I think, is oftentimes misunderstood. It’s not just experiencing financial hardship. … It’s a combination of crises,” said Julia Lash, the Community Development Block Grant program manager for the City of Brownsville.

The survey, which is anonymous and does not ask the name of the respondent, includes demographic questions such as age, gender, where the individual slept the previous night and plans to sleep that night, the reason why they are homeless and the benefits and type of assistance they believe they need.

Data collected in the count, which was conducted in collaboration with other organizations, is sent to state and federal authorities.

“We send the results to the Texas Balance of State Continuum of Care (CoC) program, which is designed to end homelessness, who in turn take that information, compile an annual report and then hand it to the U.S. Congress,” said Julia Lash, the Community Development Block Grant program manager for the City of Brownsville.

Marina Zolezzi, director of the city’s Office of Grant Management and Community Development, said 836 homeless individuals were counted last year.

Based on those results, the city received about $235,000 in U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) grants. Part of the money is used to fund the city’s rental assistance and house stabilization programs.

The rest is distributed among nonprofit organizations that run temporary shelters and food pantries.

“Anyone who receives funding for that has to track these individuals and how long they’re homeless,” Lash said.Ana Rodriguez, a case worker for Catholic Charities in Brownsville, was among the more than 40 volunteers who
conducted the survey.

 

“We need to know what our homeless count is, what are the needs in our city and, basically, what we can do to end homelessness in our city,”Rodriguez said.

She hopes that the information collected in the survey will translate into more affordable housing and employment opportunities, the lack of which she said contributes to homelessness.

Lash said the survey covered all of Cameron County, where according to the U.S. Census Bureau, the poverty rate is at 34.5 percent.

Several nonprofit organizations, including Friendship of Women Inc., Ozanam Center Inc., Sunshine Haven Inc., the Brownsville Literacy Center and the Good Neighbor Settlement House, as well as Home Depot, Lowe’s and Academy Sports and Outdoors, provided volunteers and donated toiletries and socks to be given to the respondents.

Anyone who is in need of assistance may call the Office of Grant Management and Community Development at 548-6167, where they will be referred to the proper agencies.

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