Brownville Leads Count Effort to Secure Grants for Homeless
BROWNSVILLE – A Cameron County city is working to understand the root of the homeless crisis in their area.
Julia Lash, program manager for the city of Brownsville, said the city’s goal is to get an accurate count as to how many people are living in the street. The city does so with the annual program called Point-In-Time Count.
“Most of our individuals are chronic homeless individuals. So, they’ve been out in the streets for years, it’s usually the same ones,” she said.
Homeless people roam the streets every day and work odd jobs to earn whatever money they can. Many suffer from a mental health illness or an addiction. However, the number one cause of homelessness is a loss of a job.
Jorge Chavez suffered chronic homelessness. He said he lived in the streets for nearly seven years.
“I, like most of us, we just stopped doing what we used to do. We got tired, but then we got into trouble because we didn’t have any place to stay,” he said.
Lash said it’s important for them to get an accurate count in order to assist the homeless with the help of the program.
“So, depending on how much our number turns out this year, it will determine whether our grant will increase or decrease,” she said. “The higher the number is, the more need we demonstrate to get the grant.”
Lash said they were low on volunteers last year and only counted 177 homeless people living in Cameron County. She said there was a dramatic drop from 2015, when they spoke to and surveyed 838 people.
“There are two factors. One, the weather has a lot to do with it. If it’s really cold, we really can’t be out there for too long conducting a count with their volunteers,” she said. “The second factor is that we don’t get enough volunteers. We can’t reach up areas as we would like to.”
Lash said those factors help make the count inaccurate. She said the Harlingen Police Department’s own count made the error more obvious.
Harlingen Police Department officer Guillermo Cruz said they counted 120 homeless people in their city.
“First off, all we looked through our system and we only saw about 50, but that’s about only what we keep record of,” he said.
However, Cruz said he and his fellow officers found more people living on the streets than expected.
Both Lash and Cruz agreed there is not enough data available on the Valley’s homeless population. Inaccurate data leaves room for errors and the homeless pay the price, like Chavez.
Chavez is one of hundreds who can benefit from the Good Neighbor Settlement House in Brownsville. Judith Rodriguez, an associate of the agency, said she hopes to implement a program to help the homeless.
“Chronic individuals need a program that’s not just 30 days, five to eight months, but a program where they can graduate and help them out with their needs,” she said. “It is a problem and that’s what we need, more data on it. We’ve seen it gradually increase homelessness, but we need more data so we can back ourselves up with that.”
More aid for the Point-In-Time Count will help generate a clearer picture of what exactly is happening in the community. The city said they will use those numbers to get federal funds and help rehabilitate and serve the homeless in Cameron County.