SAN ANTONIO – Armed with mobile apps for the first time, nearly 300 volunteers scoured multiple areas around Bexar County for the annual Point-In-Time count of the local homeless population.
“Tonight is really about getting our arms around the size and scope of homelessness in our community today,” said Luke Leppla, coordinated entry program manager for South Alamo Regional Alliance for the Homeless. “The count is really important every year, because it allows us to look at the data to really drive policy-making in our community.”
The data can also help turn around lives.
“I was tired of paying the consequences for one thing,” said Mark Pitre, a Haven for Hope housing specialist.
Pitre, who was once homeless himself, turned his life around at Haven for Hope before becoming an employee.
“The first six months, I didn't even want to be there. I was like, ‘Just find me a place. Get me out of here,’” Pitre said. “Once I started taking direction from my counselors and case managers, then that's when things started to turn around for me.”
On Thursday night, Pitre led one of the groups of five volunteers, all escorted by one San Antonio police officer, to an area by Interstate 10 and Culebra. On the outskirts of a known homeless encampment, they came across David Farley and his wife, who he said suffers from schizophrenia.
“I think it's important to really find out how many people are out here, what the problems are, because you can't help a person unless you know what's wrong with that person,” said Farley, who just got a job in November. “I'd kind of like to do it on my own as much as possible. I was on that corner for a lot of years, plying the sign, and I came to the conclusion that that gets you nowhere in life.”
Farley spoke with volunteers who took his information with Counting Us, a mobile app used by other cities for Point-In-Time census counts. The paperless method provides immediate numbers for South Alamo Regional Alliance for the Homeless to create a better picture of areas that may need more attention.
“That app also captures the GPS coordinates to measure where the encounters took place, and with that geospatial information, we're going to be able to look at the patterns of homelessness in our community,” Leppla said.