Volunteers will set out across Bell County later this month in order to identify and help some of the area’s most vulnerable residents.
Local organizations once again are partnering with the Texas Homelessness Network this year for its annual Point in Time Count. This year the survey will take place from 6 a.m. to 1 p.m. Jan. 27.
The annual event aims to count everyone experiencing unsheltered homelessness — those living on the street — in the county. Volunteers also plan to include those in emergency and transitional housing.
Rashawn Smith, special pro-ject coordinator for the city of Killeen, is organizing the county’s Point in Time Count this year alongside many other organizations.
The annual count, Smith said, is important for the operations and planning of many local organizations.
“The information collected informs policy decisions, drives advocacy efforts and can help secure funding,” Smith said. “It is very important for our community as a whole for us to understand the scope of the homelessness crises and identify potential gaps in services so that we can work together to make homelessness rare, brief and one-time.”
Smith said the survey also provides the area with demographics of its homelessness population and gives organizations time to work together.
In December 2020, the city of Temple identified 336 residents who identified as homeless during the Homeless Count and Needs Assessment.
Nine residents told the city they were pushed into homeless by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Nancy Glover, Temple’s housing and community development director, said the homeless answered a 13-question survey.
Glover told the Telegram the survey helped establish the number of homeless individuals in the city and “to identify any services we can provide that would help bring them out of homelessness.”
Salvation Army work
Among the organizations helping to participate in the county is the Salvation Army of Bell County, which plans to have its case workers participate.
Lt. David Beckham, who leads the local Salvation Army from the organization’s Temple office, said the survey is something his organization tries to help out with since it affects their programs.
“It is very important to understand exactly what the need is amongst the homeless population, and how many there are that need the help,” Beckham said. “And, of course, the need is continuing to grow as more people are migrating out of Austin and coming this way.”
Tracking this local population increase, of both the homeless and those with homes, is important for Beckham’s organization.
Beckham said the Salvation Army locally tries to work with the homeless and get them placed in a home within 30 days of starting their search. He said this search has gotten harder in recent years as the agency seeks affordable homes or apartments for clients.
“The real challenge for us this past year has been housing prices have gone up, so it is a great time to sell your home,” Beckham said. “But, with that, the prices for apartments go up, but our funding doesn’t go up. So our case workers need to be very creative in finding suitable housing for people.”
For those wanting to volunteer, organizers for the Point in Time Count plan on holding a virtual training session 2-4 p.m. Thursday.
The training session will be led by a staff member with the Texas Homeless Network, teaching those who want to participate what they need to do. Organizers said they are happy to help train those who are interested in volunteering for the first time.
Despite January often being one of the coldest months in Central Texas, Amanda Tindell, chairwoman of the Central Texas Homelessness Coalition, said the count will still go on.
“The volunteers always come through,” Tindell said in 2020.
Those wanting to sign up and participate in the count can do so at https://bit.ly/31B22R0.