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Hey, Texplainer — how can Texans help solve homelessness?
Gov. Greg Abbott has waged a social media war this year with Austin officials over homelessness in the state capital. He then tapped state resources to clean up encampments under highway overpasses and provide land where people experiencing homelessness can camp. The ongoing feud and government responses to homelessness have brought the issue to the forefront of public discussion.
Experts say three ways Texans can help their homeless neighbors are to focus one at a time on issues that a homeless person is experiencing, to challenge perspectives that stigmatize homelessness, and to reach out to local organizations to see what help they need.
We’ve compiled ways big and small to help homeless Texans — and a list of organizations that can further direct people in major urban areas where their help is needed the most.
Hone in on one cause
Helping people experiencing homelessness works best when trying to fix one of their challenges, such as accessing adequate health care or securing housing, said Thao Costis, CEO of Search Homeless Services in Houston.
“When you try to be everything to everybody, you basically just aren't very good at any particular thing,” Costis said.
Traditional approaches to helping people experiencing homelessness, such as organizing soup kitchens or donating clothing, are less likely to help solve “chronic homelessness” because they treat the symptom and not the underlying problem.
Costis said seeking experts in the areas that are most needed, like finding low-income housing and connecting people to employment services, will take less effort and will produce the best results.
Many groups combatting homelessness have adopted a “housing first” approach, which calls for providing housing before moving on to addiction recovery and medical services.
Mike Nichols, interim CEO for the Coalition of the Homeless in Houston, said securing housing for people experiencing homelessness kept 85% of those helped off the streets.
“We house them in permanent supportive housing … because we believe that housing somebody is the first step to ending homelessness,” Nichols said. “Housing them with wraparound services, social services, psychological services, medical services is a needed step.”
Change the public mindset
Although donations are appreciated, changing the public’s view of homelessness will have the biggest impact, said Matthew Mollica, executive director of the Ending Community Homelessness Coalition in Austin.
“We just really aren't doing a great job of having these difficult conversations. It's so polarizing, and people are so unwilling to engage with different points of view right now,” Mollica said. “That's not going to get us towards the solution.”
Complacency is just as powerful as the passionate rhetoric spouted by Texas officials, said Blake Fetterman, executive director for the Salvation Army’s Carr P. Collins Center in Dallas. Texans hoping to solve homelessness in their communities must be willing to test solutions that are closer to their homes.
“We need people that are willing to say, ‘Yeah, I'm willing to give this a shot in my backyard,” Fetterman said. “Whether that's the development of affordable housing in their community, whether that's the development of a shelter in their community, but we need more people saying yes.”
Look for places to help
The state set aside $6.4 million to the Homeless Housing and Services Program for the 2019-2020 fiscal year, according to an annual report. This program uses state funding to build, develop and secure housing for people experiencing homelessness in Texas’ nine largest cities: Arlington, Austin, Corpus Christi, Dallas, El Paso, Fort Worth, Houston, Plano and San Antonio.
Eric Samuels, CEO of the Texas Homeless Network, said Texas also gives an annual grant to the Healthy Community Collaborative, a state program that assists people experiencing homelessness with severe mental illness or addiction. This year, the state gave the initiative $5 million.
Meanwhile, organizations around the state are dedicated to combating different effects of homelessness, such as inadequate health care, lack of legal aid, and food scarcity, in their local communities. Costis said it’s more than likely that community groups are already spearheading the ways Texans are hoping to help.
Here are some places to start for those looking to donate or volunteer:
- The Texas Homeless Network collaborates with 215 counties to organize advocacy work, analyze community data and educate Texans on homelessness in their local areas.
- The Ending Community Homelessness Coalition works with local advocates and agencies to secure reliable housing for people experiencing homelessness. Volunteers help in their annual Point in Time Count census of homeless residents in Travis County and collect community donations.
- Austin Resource Center for the Homeless provides housing and emergency basic needs, such as showers and laundry facilities, for people experiencing homelessness.
- Caritas of Austin provides stable housing, food, education classes, job services and veterans assistance in Austin.
- Mobile Loaves & Fishes is a social outreach ministry that spearheaded the Community First! Village initiative, a 51-acre community that offers permanent housing to individuals transitioning out of homelessness.
- ATX Helps launched in early November as an effort to build a $14 million "Sprung shelter," a temporary housing facility with 150 bunk beds for those experiencing homelessness as they work to transition into permanent housing.
- The Good Neighbor Settlement House offers case management, emergency physical and mental health services and transportation to people experiencing homelessness.
- Twin City Mission provides emergency support, clothing and food while using a housing-first approach to lower the amount of time people spend in their emergency shelter.
- The Tiny Hope Village nonprofit charity has purchased a seven-acre plot of land to provide permanent housing for people experiencing homelessness.
In Corpus Christi:
- Mother Teresa Shelter Inc.’s services include food, a multipurpose activity and therapeutic center, transitional housing for men, and a “continuum of care” system that tracks and manages people experiencing homelessness.
- The Austin Street Center offers a walk-in emergency shelter with medical care, employment services and classes for people experiencing homelessness.
- The Bridge provides coordinated assessments, day and night shelter, care coordination, and housing and employment services.
- Carr P. Collins Social Service Center, the world’s largest Salvation Army, offers food, a cooling station and shelter, and programs for issues like substance abuse and domestic violence.
- The Homeless Veterans Services of Dallas provides food and shelter, college education programs and assistance in locating temporary and permanent housing for veterans experiencing homelessness.
- CitySquare provides people experiencing homelessness with permanent housing through a variety of programs.
In El Paso:
- Project Vida’s services include rapid rehousing and permanent supportive housing with its “Roots & Wings” apartment complexes.
In Fort Worth:
- The Tarrant County Homeless Coalition works with organizations to provide housing and support services for people experiencing homelessness and pioneer data-driven approaches to solving homelessness.
- DRC Solutions offers permanent housing in its Palm Tree Apartments, other housing-first initiatives and trauma recovery programs.
- Search Homeless Services works with clients to secure housing and find jobs while conducting mobile outreach and providing early childhood education classes.
- The Coalition for the Homeless works with community partners on homelessness through project management and public policy.
- The Beacon provides day shelter, transitional housing and legal aid to Houston residents experiencing homelessness.
- The Star of Hope provides basic needs like food and shelter and worship services at its Men’s Development Center, Women & Family Development Center and Extended Services.
In San Antonio:
- SAMMinistries gives rental or utility assistance to those at risk of becoming homeless or experiencing homelessness.
- As the city’s Continuum of Care Lead Agency, the South Alamo Regional Alliance for the Homeless, compiles data, organizes committees and collects donations to assist people experiencing homelessness.
- The Society of St. Vincent de Paul offers emergency services such as food and shelter while directing individuals to permanent housing or rental assistance.
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Correction: A previous version of this story misstated the kind of shelter ATX Helps plans to build. It is a temporary housing facility for those experiencing homelessness as they transition into permanent housing.