Volunteers take to streets to count city's homeless

Point-in-time count conducted each year

SAN ANTONIO – Hundreds of people spread across San Antonio Thursday night to get a snapshot of how many homeless people are living on San Antonio streets.

A KSAT crew went with one of the volunteer groups and talked with some of the people who call the streets their home.

In a week, Chris Villareal will turn 27 years old, but this birthday, like many before, will be a tough one.

"I've been addicted to crack before. I've been addicted to methamphetamine. (I've) been addicted to all that. I have, when I was young," Villareal said.

He's off drugs now, but has been homeless for the past four years. He said he works small part-time construction jobs, but he's not making enough to rent an apartment.

"It's hard to get a job. It's hard," Villareal said.

He's one of thousands of volunteers counted Thursday night as they offered services. Sara Pfeifer led the team the KSAT crew went with. She's been a volunteer for three years.

"As a mom, we're taking care of somebody's kids. Our veterans, they made an incredible sacrifice for all of us and this is an opportunity to serve them as well," Pfeifer said.

The point-in-time survey happens every January in about 300 cities across the nation.

"We use that data to look at resources, services, any gaps and we also report all that information back up to (Housing and Urban Development)," Family Endeavors CEO Travis Pearson said.

Pearson said reporting the numbers ensures San Antonio gets its share of federal funding to fight homelessness, much of which is now going toward mental illness.

Villareal said mental health is the biggest problem on the streets.

"I'm diagnosed with bipolar mania, which means that I'm manic about it. So when I get sad, I get severely depressed. When I get angry, I get severely angry. It's not normal," he said.

His friend battles schizophrenia.

"He's smart. He knows what he's doing, but he talks a lot. He talks to himself, and most people these days don't have time to listen to anybody. They just walk away," Villareal said.

He said the stigma around mental health stops a lot of people from asking for help.

"I'm aware of my mental illness, like most of us are, aware of our situation, like most of us are, but we can't do nothing about it because because we're not able to either find the right help, or speak our mind," he said.

He was thankful the volunteers combed the streets Thursday, showing people like him they care.

Last year, they counted about 2,900 homeless people in San Antonio, down from the year before. There are several factors that go into that number. Every year there are more volunteers and organizers say that means they're able to get a better count of the city's homeless, and maybe identify more camps, which could make the number go up. However, they have also become better at helping the homeless with services, which makes the number go down.

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