Some live on the edge of homelessness

HARLINGEN — Homelessness appears to have declined in Harlingen.

But many residents are living on the brink.

Those are conclusions drawn from a survey on homelessness conducted by Loaves & Fishes of the Rio Grande Valley.

Workers with the multi-service social service organization took to the streets Jan. 21 to count and survey homeless persons. Clients at the center’s shelter also were counted.

They found 53 individuals, including 27 at the shelter. Statistics for last year’s count were not available.

But the count this year was lower than last year.

Not everyone surveyed met the strict definition of homeless — a person staying in a shelter, staying in a place not meant for human habitation or living doubled up in a temporary arrangement.

But the survey included some people who can be described as being in danger of falling into homelessness.

Pastor Bill Reagan, Loaves & Fishes executive director, said the survey shows some improvement on the homeless front, but perhaps not enough.

“I think what it really says is, times are better, but they are only marginally better. There are a lot of people who are still living right on the edge,” he said.

“They’re one prescription away, one month away or just one misfortune away from really falling through the cracks.”

The poverty level in Harlingen is still about 32 percent, he said. For Cameron County, it’s 36 percent.

Loaves & Fishes is one of numerous social service organizations across the country that participate in an annual count of homeless persons called the “Point In Time” count. The survey is taken on one day every year in January and is intended to provide a snapshot of homelessness in America.

In Harlingen, three-quarters of those surveyed are men. Most have been divorced or separated from a spouse.

Of the 53 counted, the longest anyone had been homeless was three years.

“Most of them have been experiencing their first episode of homelessness and most have been homeless only for a few days or a few months,” Reagan said.

“And that surprised me a little bit. I would have expected more long-term homelessness.

“That’s probably a good sign, so many are not chronic or repeat homeless.”

One 16-year-old reported he had been kicked out of his house and then kicked out of a friend’s house.

“He came to us basically because he ran out of other options,” Reagan said.

Reagan was surprised by some findings of this year’s survey.

For one, one-quarter of those surveyed are older than age 50.

“By the time you’re 50 years old, your life has pretty much settled down. You make mistakes as a young person and sometimes get yourself in trouble,” Reagan said.

“Or even if things have been rough in your life, usually by the time you get to 50 you’ve found some way to keep yourself stable.

“So I’m surprised there are that many who over 50.”

The homeless count for Cameron County was not available this past week.

Top reasons for homelessness

– Unable to pay rent or a mortgage

– Financial stress from a divorce

– Unemployment