Texas town's homeless population headcount misses hundreds of "hidden" victims

"Invisible" homelessness rates spiking in Texas

A yearly census-like count of the nation's homeless population is used by the Department of Housing and Urban Development to allocate funding to areas in need. In Victoria, Texas, where the homeless population has tripled since 2018, Ginny Stafford took on the task of counting the town's homeless in a period of 24 hours as part of an annual town-wide effort to contribute to the federal headcount. 

But some homeless people are difficult to find because they are "hidden," she said.  

Victoria and other towns like it do not have a designated agency working with the homeless population, so Stafford and volunteers from Mid-Coast Family Services and other non-profits team up for the annual counting effort for the HUD survey.    

"There's a pretty strict definition of people that we are counting today. And they are unsheltered, which means they're living outside, in a park, in a car," Stafford told CBS News' Maria Elena Salinas. "Those places are all considered not fit for human habitation."

Stafford said her group would also be counting people in shelters. The town of over 67,000 people has three shelters in total — and no new affordable housing has been built in over a decade.

Stafford cited a recent town ordinance that prohibits camping in public places as an obstacle to getting an accurate headcount. She explained that it made it harder to find Victoria's homeless population because they were "hidden."  

One family that had been homeless for a year was not counted and had been living in a motel for about a week. According to Stafford, HUD does not consider anyone "sleeping somewhere with a roof" over their heads as homeless.

Parents Jessica and Jeremy, speaking to CBS News from the motel, said it was "scary" to have to worry about what their children were going to eat. 

"It breaks my heart," Jessica said.

They weren't alone. Yvonne Rossman, homeless liaison for the Victoria School District, said she had almost 600 homeless students in the current school year alone. She said "none" of her students and families were included in the town's annual count for the federal tally. 

"My students and families we work with, they have needs and they should be counted in this count," she said.

Only 157 individuals living in Victoria were identified as homeless.

Rossman challenged HUD's definition. "You should count anyone that does not have a stable place of their own, that does not have their own residence," she said. "If they are hopping the way our families have to hop – they hop from relative for a few weeks to a friend's house for a few weeks to a hotel for a few weeks, and it's a continual movement throughout a school year, moving 10 to 12 times in a school year."

"If that's not homelessness, I don't know what is," Rossman said. 

Texas couple Dan and Edie told Stafford that they had been homeless for a year.

"We're not trying to be rich. We're not trying to be Donald Trump or anything, we're just trying to survive and have a life," Edie said.

Stafford asked one homeless man where he was sleeping. He said it would be "maybe under a carport."

"I'm used to living in the streets but I would really like to have a civilized life again. That's be nice," another told her.