CORPUS CHRISTI — You see them all over the city, from downtown to Flour Bluff, homeless people simply looking for a place to spend the night.
“I'm just trying to get a foot up and trying to get into the shelters that I can,” said James Schmidt.
Schmidt is part of Corpus Christi's growing homeless population. He's new to this life, having been homeless just a few weeks. Asking for help is a lesson in humility.
“For me, my pride, it's hard for me to ask for help,” said Schmidt. “It's hard for me to stand there ask someone if they can give me a quarter for the bus or if they can spare a cigarette.”
When asked how the city could solve its homeless problem, Schmidt echoes what others in the community have said before him.
“I think that they should have, a long time ago, opened up a place that was big enough to house people to help the homeless,” said Schmidt.
Over the years, several options have been discussed to do just that.
“We've looked at housing solutions including tiny homes, we've looked at work programs and creative strategies for finding employment for individuals who are homeless,” said Sarah Scott, Associate Professor of Criminal Justice and Public Administration at Texas A&M Corpus Christi.
In the last two years, Scott’s graduate students have worked with the city on the homelessness issue. She believes the city needs more information before it can find a solution.
“The first step in that is getting an accurate count of how many homeless people we have in Corpus Christi, and then beyond that finding out what their needs are,” said Scott.
One day every January, the city sends volunteers out to talk to as many homeless people as they can. It's called a Point in Time Count, and it can be misleading.
“We know that we're vastly under-counting the homeless population in Corpus Christi,” said Scott.
The point in time count generally accounts for a third of the city's homeless. It may be an undercount, but it's used to determine how much federal funding the city gets. That money now is more important than ever.
“We're not going to create any new services or programs from the city's standpoint,” said Mayor Joe McComb during a press conference introducing the city’s new Homeless and Affordable Housing Division.
Instead of spending taxpayer money, the city now plans to coordinate the various agencies that help the homeless.
“That's a huge, huge piece; and I'm very thankful that the city is stepping up and bringing some leadership into that role,” said Kyle Knutson, President of the city’s Homeless Issues Partnership.
The HIP board will work closely with the new division to find the answers the city needs. Knutson believes the city needs a centralized space for the homeless with services and transportation nearby.
“I just think it would be easier to control,” said Knutson. “The spot? You would have to get a plot of land.”
According to Scott, finding a home for the homeless is easier said than done.
“You have that 'not in my backyard' issue,” said Scott. “People sometimes show a great deal of resistance to those types of housing developments.”
While many support creating a homeless community, Scott says identifying a solution without understanding the problem is the wrong approach.
“We haven't been able to determine how well those individual programs would work in Corpus Christi,” said Scott. “Part of the reason for that is because we don't yet have a clear picture of the homeless population in Corpus Christi.”
Some believe taking more than a day for the point in time count would help, but because it's a federal program, that may not be possible. Scott says her grad students are also working on ways to help get an accurate count.