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Volunteers survey homeless in area

Corpus Christi Caller-Times
January 28, 2009
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Officials hope to understand their plight

Lauren Gomez and her 19-year-old cousin Alina Loredo took to the streets Tuesday to learn how to help the homeless.

Gomez and Loredo were among more than 40 volunteers on 19 teams that went out to the streets, homeless camps and shelters with Corpus Christi Police Department bike officers and distributed 1,220 surveys to the homeless during a four-hour period Tuesday in Corpus Christi and Robstown.

Gomez, a stay-at-home mother, and Loredo, a 2007 Calallen High School graduate, gained a better understanding of the homeless' plight Tuesday by volunteering for the biennial Point in Time Survey. The survey counts the number of homeless people in Nueces County and gives the community a better idea of how to meet their needs.

"I'm glad my cousin could come with me," said the 28-year-old Gomez, a 1999 Incarnate Word Academy graduate who now has a 6-year-old daughter, Mia. "We come from a long line of ministers in our family that tend to care about people and want to reach out to help them. That's what this is all about -- we really need to help the homeless in our community."

Those who completed the survey received a care package of socks and personal hygiene items

The survey helps to determine things like how long a person has been homeless, factors that contributed to the person being homeless, where the person usually sleeps and if the person is receiving any types of services, said Rudy Bentancourt, program manager for the City Community Development Department.

"The info helps a lot," said Eddie Jackson-Mathis, survey chairwoman. "It helps us to know if half the homeless people are like that because they don't have their IDs and can't move forward or if they have a drug problem that needs to be addressed. Once we get the survey back, we know who the people are, where they are from and how they got this way, which will give us the whole picture."

There were 250 homeless people who took the survey in 2007 and survey officials were expecting more this year because the state of the economy. The number of people surveyed wasn't available late Tuesday.

Officials scheduled the survey in the afternoon and evening hours this year after checking to see what worked best for cities like San Antonio and Austin, Bentancourt said.

"Two years ago it was raining, and we did the survey in the morning," Bentancourt said. "It's easier to count the homeless in the evening, and you don't startle as many people" as surveyors did when they walked into campsites at 6 a.m.

Orlando Gomez, a 42-year-old board member of Homeless Issues Partnership Inc., said drug addiction, alcoholism and mental disabilities are just a few of the reasons that a person could end up homeless.

"These are people that can't help themselves that need the services that they are receiving -- some of which they wouldn't even be aware of if not for this survey," said 2006 Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi graduate Carrie McKnight, a 35-year-old volunteer who is a substitute elementary school teacher in Portland.

Jackson-Mathis said although Nueces County is expecting to receive federal funding to help the homeless from the Department of Housing and Urban Development for doing the survey, that isn't the main reason for it.

"The goal is for everyone to have a home, and we're working with the homeless to reach that goal," Jackson-Mathis said.

Photographer Michael Zamora contributed to this report. Contact Stuart Duncan at 886-3792 or duncans@caller.com

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