Islanders Volunteer Unique Skills during National Homeless Count

CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas – Showing compassion, empathy, and Islander spirit, students from Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi took to emergency shelters, transitional housing, and unsheltered locations on Jan. 23, volunteering their time to collect data from around Nueces County during the Annual Point In Time Count. The PIT Count is organized by the Homeless Issues Partnership (HIP), Texas Homeless Network, and the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). The Island University lent helping hands from three of its six colleges including the College of Nursing and Health Sciences (CONHS), the College of Liberal Arts (CLA), and the College of Education and Human Development (COEHD). Student volunteers scoured far and wide to analyze numbers regarding the county’s homeless population. Collected data will be used to measure federal and local progress in preventing and ending homelessness.

“As students volunteer for the PIT Count, they not only have an opportunity to help their community, but a chance to help an underserved population that exist heavily in our city and throughout the country,” said CONHS Clinical Assistant Professor Teresa Ercan. “This opportunity truly hits home in all three colleges that are assisting. Students encountered people from different backgrounds that have dealt with food insecurity, social injustice, and shelter insecurity.”

In 2019, HIP reported up to 380 homeless individuals living in Nueces County, 26 of them being children. According to the National Alliance to End Homelessness, 6.7 million households spent more than 50 percent of their income on rent, experiencing a severe housing cost burden, leading to many families living “doubled up” or with multiple family and friends in one household. This phenomenon increases the risk for homeless. In Texas alone, more than 516,000 people were at risk of becoming homeless in 2017.   

“Homelessness often doesn’t just affect one person, it usually affects a family,” said Ruth Younger, Islander psychology major, who volunteered for the PIT Count. “Our city has a large number of homeless individuals, and although you might see one or two on their own – there are moms, dads, and children out here as well, and it’s important we understand what brought them to this circumstance.”

Younger says her study of marriage and family relationships inspired her to volunteer her time for a better understanding of what she could encounter in the future of her career as a licensed counselor. While many students spent their volunteer hours taking surveys, others like CONHS student Cherish Clanagan, helped with data entry.

“I was surprised to see how many of the individuals had become homeless at such young ages, many of them were younger than I am now,” said Clanagan. “In my future as a nurse, I may be one of the few people in their life that is able help them in a caring and compassionate way.”

Organizers of the PIT Count say Islander students are a unique help to the cause, as they excel in digital literacy and advanced communication skills, ensuring optimal results for this year’s count.

“This partnership has proven very successful,” said HIP President Kyle Knutson. “It’s helped streamline the entire survey process, create an online training module, expand our volunteer base, and raise the profile of this annual event. We look forward to partnering next year.”

As student volunteers completed the day’s work, one sentiment rang true for all students – homeless voices need and want to be heard.

“When I came out here today, I was anticipating a lot of push back from the homeless community and people not wanting to participate, but so far we’ve had good participants who were friendly and helpful and were happy to answer our questions,” said Younger. “There are many homeless people in this city, and they want us to know what’s going on in their lives.”

Helping to leave an Islander Impact, Dr. Meng Zhao CONHS Associate Professor and Interim Chair of the Population Health and Health Systems Leadership Department, has offered to analyze the data from the 854 surveys taken. This data will help determine trends, and will be shared with local leaders and agencies that serve the homeless population in Nueces County.