Volunteers Sherry Higgins, left, and Jon Bailey are escorted by Collin County Deputy Jose Perez as they search for homeless individuals at Brockdale Park in Lucas last week as part of the annual Point-in-Time count. Jeremy Hallock/The Wylie News
On a chilly Thursday night last week, four teams of volunteers gathered at The Cross Church event center to assist in a carefully coordinated effort to search for unhoused citizens in the area.
And after hours of searching, the annual Point-in-Time (PIT) count revealed less unhoused individuals than in year’s past, but the data is still crucial to collect.
This year’s annual count, Thursday, Jan. 25, was organized by Ronni Fetzer of the St. Vincent de Paul Society, as part of a county-wide effort.
The 25 volunteers were divided into four teams to search parks, parking lots, schools, churches, restrooms, Wylie High School Ag barn, ER facilities and other areas. Two teams were scheduled for 5:30 p.m. and two for 8:30 p.m.
Shortly before 5:30 p.m., the first wave of volunteers ate pizza and drank water before loading care packages—along with coats and blankets—into vans. Donated by food pantries including Amazing Grace, 5 Loaves, and New Hope, the care packages included food, toiletry supplies, first aid kits, hats, gloves and flashlights.
When homeless people are found on a PIT count, volunteers offer them care packages. Their location is logged and volunteers ask questions for a survey that include the person’s name, where they are sleeping, age, race, sex, length of time they have been homeless and what caused it, health conditions, drug and alcohol abuse, sources of income and immediate needs.
“Get their phone number if they want to be reached so we can follow up with them and see if there are any specific needs we can help them with,” Fetzer said, addressing the volunteers. “They usually have phones.”
Hope for the Cities Director Jon Bailey was the driver for one team along with two volunteers, Sherry Higgins from the Cross Church and Miguel Hurtado, a Spanish speaker from St. Vincent de Paul Society.
Hurtado said he volunteered because he “just wanted to help.” Higgins said her team was out past midnight for the PIT count last year, adding that the “car got stuck,” which created a “40-minute delay.”
Driving past the Wylie Community Christian Care Center, the three volunteers gasped when they saw it had a full parking lot and a line going down the street.
The team followed Collin County Sheriff’s Office Deputy Jose Perez in a patrol car through parks including Collin, Brockdale, Bratonia, Clear Lake, Twin Groves, Caddo, Ticky Creek and Highland.
Perez started his way through parks using a search light from his vehicle and frequently stepped out to check restrooms. When the vehicles approached locked gates, the volunteer joined Perez on foot to survey the enclosed areas.
“You’re not afraid of homeless people?” Perez asked the group, who shook their heads. “They usually want to fight or have a weapon from my experience.” Perez also said homeless people often gravitate to churches because they rarely call the police.
Bailey recalled meeting a man at East Fork Park living in an SUV on a PIT count a few years ago.
“He was about 60 and I asked him why he was living in his car,” Bailey said. “He was very well-organized and reclined in his driver’s seat ready to call it a night. He said, ‘I have congestive heart failure and the only way I can afford my medication is if I live out here.’ I went there the next year and he was still there.”
Departing Brockdale Park, history seemed to repeat itself when Bailey turned into a muddy dip and the van was stuck for about 40 minutes. Perez put a few items under the wheel to get some traction to no avail and Bailey ended up calling a friend with a truck who pulled the van out of the mud. Then Bailey cheerfully drove to the next park.
The team searched parking lots, boat ramps, fishing areas, camping sites and other areas along the lake until about 10:30 p.m., but only came across a few angry ducks.
“It genuinely is a relief to know that no one is exposed out here,” Bailey said.
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