Each year the South Plains Homeless Consortium conducts a Point-In-Time Count of the homeless population in Lubbock. The count is intended to provide a snapshot of Lubbock’s homeless population in an effort to develop effective programs and measure progress toward ending homelessness.
Ashley Ammons, Lubbock Area United Way’s new Community Impact Director, participated in the count this year for the first time and shares her experiences below.
“Thankful” is the best word to describe my experience with the South Plains Homeless Consortium’s annual Point in Time Survey. This survey not only counts the number of homeless people in our community, it also determines the needs of the community. This was the first year I have participated and it definitely won’t be my last.
I was assigned to work on the street team with Lubbock Police Department’s Homeless Outreach Team (HOT). My volunteer shift began at 5:45am with Officer Tony Chacon. The morning began by getting into a heated truck, still dark outside, in 36 degree weather.
I was bundled up from head to toe with my coat, gloves, scarf, and boots but was still freezing throughout our first encounter with a homeless gentleman. He was sleeping on the side of the highway, with a long sleeve shirt, and blanket wrapped tightly around him. Officer Chacon greeted him and I discovered they were already on a first name basis. The gentleman agreed to take the survey as long as he could stay wrapped in his blanket. During the interview, I found out he had been homeless for over 5 years, grew up in Lubbock, and he planned to sleep on the street that evening. We handed him some warm socks and we got back into the heated car. All I could think about was how cold he must have been, and how he had been out there all night.
We began to search in Officer Chacon’s daily patrol area and spotted a homeless couple who were sipping cups of coffee the gas station clerk gave them. Officer Chacon and the couple greeted each other as if they had been friends for years. This couple agreed to take our survey. We learned the woman had been homeless for 10 years, and the man was veteran who served in two wars. As the survey continued, I discovered they would be sleeping in an outdoor camp they had made into their home. They informed me that they keep their camp very clean because nobody wants to sleep in a mess. As we pulled away, I couldn’t help but think about how and where I enjoyed my cup of coffee that morning.
Again, “thankful” is the word I use to describe my experience with the Point in Time survey. I am thankful to all of the agencies, individuals, and the Homeless Outreach Team for what they are doing to help assess the needs of the homeless community. What I found to be incredible was the relationships the HOT Team have built with the homeless community. Officer Chacon knew everyone by their first name and everyone knew him. The HOT team has gained the trust of a very vulnerable part of society and I found that to be extremely fascinating.
This survey allowed us to gather data that we need to determine the next steps. These were only two of the many encounters I had that day, but all of them had their own stories. As I sit here thinking about my experience, I am reminded that I had warm clothes to wear, and I woke up in a home where I enjoyed my own cup of coffee. There are as many reasons for homelessness as there are homeless people but we have to remember that homelessness is the symptom, not the problem. Working together, as a community, we can find solutions to these problems.