East Texas Human Needs Network conducts homeless survey in Smith Co.

TYLER (KYTX/ETHNN) – East Texas Human Needs Network will be conducting a Homeless Survey Thursday, January 24, 2013 in a continuing effort to address the homelessness issues facing community members in Smith County and throughout the state.

"We will be carrying out this survey and count on the same day as other agencies all over Texas," said Christina Fulsom, ETHNN representative. "The survey will result in a comprehensive report on the number of homeless persons – sheltered and unsheltered – in our community; demographics, reasons for becoming and remaining homeless, educational attainment, employment status, health care needs, and other factors will be collected. We have to truly understand the scope of the problem in order to improve our ability to plan and implement effective housing and service programs. The same survey was conducted in January of 2012 – 257 homeless individuals, 55 of them children, were identified in Tyler, there were many others we did not find that night."

When trying to determine who is homeless in Texas, a wide variety of barriers exist. Often there isn't an easy way to establish who is homeless because definitions of homelessness vary. In addition, strategies for obtaining the information are complex, diverse, and variable. Many experiencing homelessness do not wish to be found or represented as "homeless." Therefore, organizations face unique challenges when working to curb the rising numbers of individuals and families suffering from poverty around the state, not to mention the many difficulties encountered when providing needed services and care.

Recognizing homelessness as an often temporary circumstance rather than a permanent condition is essential in gathering information about the homeless population in Texas. Furthermore,
regardless of which definition is being used, simply finding those who fit the definition of homeless to participate in the survey, or in another way to be counted, is challenging.

The research we do is conducted at locations known to be frequented by people who are homeless. Institutional locations include places such as shelters, soup kitchens, and service centers. Non-institutional locations include streets, parks, or abandoned buildings; these locations can become particularly dangerous in Texas, with days of staggering heat in the summer and freezing temperatures in the winter. More difficult to identify are those staying temporarily with family or friends, those doubling up in overcrowded conditions, those staying in hotels or living in cars, and those congregating in places not known to or accessible to researchers. Many remain transient at all times. For these reasons, data on homelessness are usually considered to be underestimates.

It is very important that people experiencing homelessness know we are coming out to visit them that night. Those individuals facing circumstances described above are encouraged to come to the following Soup Kitchens: Good Samaritan, Loaves and Fishes, and The Salvation Army or go to Gateway to Hope a day resource center. Those staying in shelters or supportive housing programs will be surveyed at their facility; shelters and supportive housing programs participating include The Salvation Army, the East Texas Crisis Center, and the Andrews Center.

The Homeless Survey is being conducted in an effort to assist Smith County agencies in the development of comprehensive, long-term solutions to addressing homelessness. In addition, a Continuum of Care plan will be established that will provide the needed information to participate in the Balance of State Project of the Texas Homeless Network. The Balance of State Project will allow local agencies to apply for funding from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) for Continuum of Care funds. "This homeless survey is a vital step in the Continuum of Care development process and will provide a more accurate picture of the epidemic of homelessness to those who work for shelters and service agencies as well as the community-at-large," said Ken Martin, CEO of Texas Homeless Network www.thn.org .

Those wishing to volunteer may register online at www.ethnn.org.


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