AP: A record number of Americans can’t afford their rent. Lawmakers are scrambling to help

February 7, 2024

The latest data from the Harvard Joint Center for Housing Studies, released in January, found that a record high 22.4 million renter households — or half of renters nationwide — were spending more than 30% of their income on rent in 2022. The number of affordable units — with rents under $600 — also dropped to 7.2 million that year, 2.1 million fewer than a decade earlier.

Read more here.

Texas Tribune: Homelessness in Texas on the rise amid high housing costs, federal estimates show

Homelessness in Texas on the rise amid high housing costs, federal estimates show

Homelessness in Texas on the rise amid high housing costs, federal estimates show” was first published by The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.

For 24/7 mental health support in English or Spanish, call the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s free help line at 800-662-4357. You can also reach a trained crisis counselor through the Suicide and Crisis Lifeline by calling or texting 988.

The number of Texans experiencing homelessness is back at pre-pandemic levels, federal data shows.

Homelessness in Texas grew by more than 12% in 2023, in line with national trends, according to estimates released by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development last month. More than 27,000 Texans did not have a permanent roof over their heads when advocates and volunteers across the country walked Texas streets on a night last January to conduct the Point-in-Time Count annual estimate of people experiencing homelessness. About 43% of those — or some 11,700 people — lived on the streets.

Low-income households in Texas now face significantly higher rents than they did prior to the pandemic — and no longer have the pandemic-era safety net afforded by federal rent relief funds and pauses on evictions that aimed to prevent landlords from ousting tenants who couldn’t make rent. Those factors have contributed to an overall increase in homelessness, homeless experts and advocates say.

“We’re in a huge affordability crisis,” said Eric Samuels, president and CEO of Texas Homeless Network. “There’s a lot of people out there at risk of homelessness. And if they fall into homelessness, we have a lot fewer units to help them escape homelessness.”

Homelessness rose in nearly every demographic group measured by the Point-in-Time Count estimate. The number of unhoused veterans and families with children grew in 2023 by 19% and 4.9% respectively. More Black and Hispanic people experienced homelessness than in the previous year.

Experts and advocates noted some bright spots.

Efforts in major Texas cities aimed at quickly getting people experiencing homelessness into new housing and connecting them with support services helped reduce chronic homelessness, which fell year-over-year by about 9%, estimates show. Someone experiences chronic homelessness when they have been unhoused for at least a year or multiple times “while struggling with a disabling condition such as a serious mental illness, substance use disorder, or physical disability,” according to The National Alliance to End Homelessness.

Meanwhile, the state’s overall population of people experiencing unsheltered homelessness — meaning they slept in outdoor spaces like encampments or other places people aren’t meant to live — grew by 6.5%, but fell in places like Dallas and Houston.

The Dallas region saw double-digit decreases in the numbers of people experiencing unsheltered and chronic homelessness last year, which local advocates attribute to a $72 million initiative launched in 2021 to rehouse people and families experiencing homelessness.

The push, dubbed the R.E.A.L. Time Rehousing Initiative and fueled in part by federal pandemic relief funds, relies on close collaboration between dozens of nonprofits who work in homelessness response and a network of landlords willing to give the unhoused a roof over their heads, said Sarah Kahn, CEO of Housing Forward, the lead agency in charge of tackling homelessness in Dallas and Collin counties. When city crews clear homeless encampments, outreach workers offer to connect people with housing and services, she said.

That approach has worked, Kahn said. In October, the initiative reached a goal of placing 2,700 people experiencing homelessness into new housing — and aims to house 6,000 by the end of 2025.

“It’s just important to remember that this work is hard,” Kahn said. “I know it feels slow to a lot of the public and a lot of people are wondering why we’re not making more progress than we are. I think the most important thing to remember is we have a proof point of what works and we have to keep investing and scaling those proven solutions if we want to see those numbers continue to go in the right direction.”

In Houston, federal pandemic relief funds supercharged yearslong efforts to reduce the region’s homeless population by placing those experiencing homelessness into apartments before providing them with support services — efforts Dallas officials took inspiration from when crafting its strategy to address homelessness. The region’s Community COVID Housing Program, buoyed by federal relief dollars, has housed or diverted from homelessness nearly 17,000 people since it launched in October 2020, according to Houston’s Coalition for the Homeless. Last year, the region’s population of people experiencing unsheltered and chronic homelessness fell by 17.3% and 3.7%, respectively.

But federal funds that paid for the program are set to expire by the end of the year, said Ana Rausch, vice president of program operations for the Coalition for the Homeless, leaving policymakers and those who work in homelessness response to figure out how to fund at least some aspects of the program after that money runs out.

“We have to continue to invest in housing if we want to continue to see a downward trend in our homeless numbers,” Rausch said.

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at https://www.texastribune.org/2024/01/11/texas-homelessness-estimate/.

The Texas Tribune is a member-supported, nonpartisan newsroom informing and engaging Texans on state politics and policy. Learn more at texastribune.org.

Homeless Coalition seeks compassion bag donations for annual Point-in-Time count

January 16, 2024

The public is invited to assist the Comal County Homeless Coalition and Texas Homeless Network later this month as the organizations prepare for the annual “Point-in-Time” count, which aims to provide a snapshot of individuals and families experiencing homelessness in Comal County over one day.

Every year, local agencies and organizations conduct a Point-in-Time (PIT) count to determine the extent of homelessness in the community. The survey is conducted throughout the state and the country.

The Coalition hopes to help the community better understand the needs and resources available to unhoused neighbors. Two-person teams of trained volunteers will conduct surveys of people experiencing homelessness in selected areas over one 24-hour period.

Survey participants will receive a compassion bag containing much-needed food, hygiene and safety items provided by the Seeds of Love non-profit organization. The Coalition is seeking donations of items for the compassion bags.

“Community support and awareness for this project are so important, not only in terms of community engagement but also to create awareness and understanding about this very vulnerable population in our area,” said Bethany Benson from Gruene United Methodist Church and a member of the PIT Count Committee.

The count helps non-profit agencies and organizations understand how homelessness changes over time across numerous variables such as economic conditions, societal factors and policy advancement. It also allows organizations to spread awareness, engage and build relationships with unhoused neighbors.

To donate items to be included in the compassion bags, contact Benson at bethany@grueneumc.org or visit https://www.signupgenius.com/go/5080E4CACA62CA64-46113202-homeless#/

To learn more about the count, visit www.thn.org/texas-balance-state-continuum-care/data/pit-count-and-hic.

First Footing community center near completion, guests get first look at refurbished facility

December 28, 2023

NB Housing Partners’ First Footing program is near completion of a years-long journey to provide a permanent community space to serve New Braunfels residents experiencing homelessness.

The organization hosted a recent open house to let guests get a first look at the new facility, a renovated former fire station at Loop 337 in New Braunfels that will act as a crisis housing and outreach center containing a comprehensive intake process connecting individuals to community resources and housing opportunities.

Officials with NB Housing Partners said the 1970s-era building requires some installations, such as a fire suppression system, before participants can occupy the facility. Still, they remain hopeful for a January move-in date.

“Anytime there is a change, even if it’s something that you are looking forward to, it still has its own unexpected things and adjustments,” said Kellie Stallings, executive director of NB Housing Partners. “Our team and our participants know that and are starting to plan ahead for that. We’ve been asking participants what they want to see and what they think are reasonable expectations for participants who seek help on their journey toward housing. They’ve been giving us some good ideas of things they think they should be responsible for and ways we can help them more effectively.”

In early 2023, NB Housing Partners entered a 25-year agreement with the City of New Braunfels to lease the former fire station. The site will provide case management, basic needs, meals, medical care, behavioral healthcare, budgeting, employment/job assistance, benefit application assistance, housing navigation and planning, and congregate crisis housing (shelter).

First Footing staffers develop a housing plan with each participant. Housing navigation and housing startup costs are provided in partnership with the Crisis Center of Comal County. Hill Country Mental Health and Developmental Disabilities Centers will offer mental health services, counseling and life skills assistance.

Since its establishment in February 2021, the First Footing program has been leasing local motel space to provide services to community members at risk for or experiencing homelessness. The program serves an average of about 30 individuals daily. The demand increases to nearly 50 individuals on cold weather nights.

The Salvation Army of New Braunfels will provide meals at the new facility with additional support from New Braunfels Church of Christ, Elks Lodge, New Braunfels Food Bank, SOS Food Bank and Peace Lutheran Church.

The facility’s medical exam room will be utilized for wellness checkups and healthcare visits. The goals are to improve preventive healthcare, address medical needs that accompany prolonged exposure to weather elements, detect and address acute or chronic health issues and reduce the overuse of emergency healthcare services.

Healthcare is provided weekly through Acadia Medical Mission, with offsite appointments offered through Volunteers in Medicine, America’s Best Eyecare and local dentistry practices.

The congregate sleeping space will provide rest for about 40 individuals at a time, with more served to preserve life safety when the outdoor temperature drops to 45 degrees or below.

An onsite skilled daytime and overnight team is alert and ready to provide a listening ear and offer suggestions to improve sleep for participants as needed.

The team also welcomes those returning from work. Participants show proof of their work times before entering the building after 10 p.m.

The facility also includes a bathroom/shower area, a television and computer room and a laundry room.

Although NB Housing Partners has established partnerships with nonprofits, businesses, faith leaders and housing developers, the organization also needs the public’s help.

The program urgently seeks donations of personal care items, such as brushes and combs, sleep masks, shower scrunchies, bath towels, deodorant and shower shoes.

Food items, such as coffee, dry cereal, and snack items, are welcome, as well as cleaning and household supplies, toilet paper, and transportation items, such as adult skateboards, adult bicycles, and ride-sharing gift cards.

Program participants also welcome H-E-B, McDonald’s, Walmart and Walgreens gift cards. For a complete list, click here.

Donors can leave items at the McKenna Events Center at 801 W. San Antonio St.

Tax-deductible donations can be made to NB Housing Partners and mailed or dropped off at 801 W. San Antonio Street, New Braunfels, TX 78130. Individuals can volunteer for the program through the Serve Spot website at servespot.org. For additional information regarding donations or the program, email admin@nbhousingpartners.org or call 830-272-5020 ext 6.

Connections breaks ground on new 28,000-square-foot facility

Oct. 9, 2023

A New Braunfels-based nonprofit organization has taken the next step in its mission to support at-risk youth, breaking ground on a new 28,000-square-foot facility that will expand its service capacity.

Connections Individual and Family Services on Oct. 5 marked the start of the first phase of the project, which will provide residents of the emergency children’s shelter and transitional living home with improved facilities to support youth recovering from trauma.

Established in 1981, Connections offers support services for homeless, abused and at-risk youths, families and the communities in which they live. The agency serves 17 counties with counseling, prevention programming, an emergency children’s shelter and a youth transitional living program.

Connection’s chief executive officer, Jacob Huereca, described the expansion as a “once-in-a-generation” project.

“This is going to be a difference maker for the westside of this community,” Huereca said. “We’re going to revitalize this side of town. We’re going to bring hope for generations to come.”

The new campus at the agency’s West San Antonio Street address will bring together the emergency shelter and transitional living program, allowing youth to benefit from individual and group meeting spaces, therapy rooms and bedrooms designed for youth experiencing trauma.

The new campus will also enable growth within the counseling program to combat growing challenges with mental health.

The current residential homes have sheltered more than 5,000 youth during the agency’s 42-year history, according to Huereca. The agency has also provided counseling services to more than 10,000 children and substance abuse prevention services to more than 15,000 youth.

The expected completion of the first phase of the project is fall 2024. The second phase includes training and meeting spaces, community resource areas, counseling and prevention offices, play therapy and sensory rooms, intake rooms and administrative areas.

In addition to its emergency shelter and transitional living program, the agency offers free or reduced-cost counseling for youth and families and in-school and community events that support positive youth development and family stability.

Vanessa Dean, a former “foster kid” who had experienced homelessness as a youth, spoke at the groundbreaking ceremony about the difference the organization made in her life, stating that “these walls have a lot of stories.”

“When you walk into a place like this, it can be pretty terrifying,” Dean said. “You feel very alone but, yet you are surrounded by 20 other children. They don’t let you feel that way for very long here. They fill you up pretty quickly. I didn’t know what it was like to be loved on. I didn’t have much self-worth. Connections really made a difference.”

Huereca said that the agency has raised $5.4 million for the new project but has about $2.2 million to go.

“We’re going to be able to serve more kids,” he said. “And we’re going to be here 42 years from now, still bringing hope to the community.”

In 2021, the McKenna Foundation provided funding that allowed Connections to purchase land for the project.

For more information on Connections or to donate to its capital campaign, visit connectionsifs.org or call 830-629-6571 ext. 221.

NB Housing Partners’ First Footing program could move into new permanent facility as soon as December

Oct. 3, 2023

Workers are progressing to transform a former fire station into a permanent facility to serve New Braunfels’ homeless population. NB Housing Partners’ First Footing program hopes to move into the new digs, possibly as soon as December.

Since its establishment in February 2021, the First Footing program has been leasing local motel space to provide services to community members at risk for or experiencing homelessness. The program serves an average of about 30 individuals daily. The demand increases to nearly 50 individuals on cold weather nights.

NB Housing Partners moved the First Footing program into a new phase after it entered into a 25-year agreement earlier this year with the City of New Braunfels to lease the former fire station at 4120 Loop 337 for use as a shelter and community resource center.

The agency is investing significant funds in building and property improvements at the site to provide a crisis housing and outreach center containing a comprehensive intake process that helps connect individuals to community resources and housing opportunities. The program site will provide case management, basic needs, meals, medical care, behavioral healthcare, budgeting, employment/job assistance, benefit application assistance, housing navigation and planning, and congregate crisis housing (shelter).

“The building site was first constructed in the 1970s, so we have found there are some things that are really old and need replacing, such as exterior sewer lines, so we are in the process of doing that,” said Kellie Stallings, executive director of NB Housing Partners. “We are preparing the plumbing for additional showers and bathrooms in both buildings. We are now installing windows and doors, completing flooring, adding insulation to the roof and adding fixtures to the walls so that when we get to the end of November, hopefully, we will be ready to move in.”

Stallings said workers are also installing safety and security access items to the building, as well as fire suppression systems.

In addition to providing a safe place to stay and 24-hour staff coverage, the First Footing program offers support services such as identification document recovery, establishing employment and reestablishing benefit income such as retirement, disability, or food assistance, significantly increasing the likelihood that individuals develop and maintain long-term housing. The program also partners with Acacia Medical Mission for physical healthcare services and Hill Country MHDD for behavioral health services.

The facility will also serve as a cold-weather shelter room to protect the safety of individuals during extreme weather conditions.

Under the current motel-based structure, according to Stallings, the program currently accommodates about 34 people. The agency can serve 48 individuals in the new permanent facility. The project’s second phase will provide 25 additional people with shelter on cold weather evenings.

“In the last year, we have met with 508 individuals who are seeking help due to experiencing homelessness,” Stallings said. “Our shelter services are not large enough to serve that many, so expansion of both crisis housing and permanent housing are key to the ongoing health and safety of individuals served and our community. Our role is listening to someone’s story, finding out what their needs are and guiding them to solutions, which may be through our agency, through other community resources or other existing resources that they haven’t been able to navigate themselves, like reconnecting with family and friends or resources in a community where they used to live.”

The program focuses primarily on serving single men and couples, referring youth to Connections Individual and Family Services, and, whenever possible, directing single women and families to the Crisis Center of Comal County and Family Promise of Greater New Braunfels.

But the ultimate goal, Stallings said, is to guide individuals toward the path of permanent housing.

“We know the shelter addresses immediate crisis needs,” she said. “We can’t stop there. The main goal in our community and why NB Housing Partners started to begin with, is to build the housing capacity for all income levels in the community. There are a lot of frontline workers who live paycheck to paycheck. One health issue, family conflict or car breakdown will result in being evicted and experiencing homelessness. As a community, we can do better by ensuring more housing is available for our community neighbors who earn low to moderate incomes.”

The agency has acquired land on Church Hill Road to expand homelessness prevention support and add transitional and permanent housing for individuals or families experiencing housing insecurity. Plans call for building housing units available for people earning up to 200% of the poverty line and renovating a house on the property to allow the agency to serve five to nine individuals.

“Individuals and families will have support services to assist them in maintaining housing with rental rates below market value as they continue credit history improvements or eviction history recovery and build up their savings in order to transition to market value rent in the community,” she said.

Tax-deductible donations can be made to NB Housing Partners and mailed or dropped off at 801 W. San Antonio Street, New Braunfels, TX 78130. Individuals can volunteer for the program through the Serve Spot website at servespot.org. For additional information regarding donations or the program, email admin@nbhousingpartners.org or call 830-606-9526.

Texas Homeless Network: Affordable Housing Out of Reach in Texas for Low-Wage Workers

August 22, 2023

For too long, low-income renters in America have struggled to afford housing. Even before the pandemic, rents were increasing much more quickly than wages, putting pressure on millions of renters. With the arrival of the pandemic, low-wage renters were hit with sudden job losses that posed unprecedented threats to their financial security and housing stability.

Read more here.

Crisis Center of Comal County settles into new location after devestating 2022 fire

July 25, 2023

In April 2022, the Crisis Center of Comal County lost its emergency shelter and residential facility due to a fire.

Now, the Center is settling into a new home on Landa Street in New Braunfels.

But the agency’s mission hasn’t changed: to provide crisis and prevention services to victims of domestic violence and sexual assault while providing a safe environment where individuals can make educated, unbiased decisions about their future.

Mildred Monreal, the Center’s chief development officer, said the new location is advantageous as it provides more space, enabling the organization to expand its offerings.

“It’s great that we moved from a smaller space on East Common Street to this larger space and the chance that we’ll build capacity for the agency,” Monreal said. “It’s very exciting overall as we get more settled into the space and figure out all the new things we can do with it.”

The Center provides services to women, children and men of all ages. These services include a 24-hour crisis line, shelter, counseling, support groups, legal advocacy, assistance with filing for child support, case management, victim advocacy, information and referral, transportation and
community education and prevention.

The new location will eventually serve as the Center’s base of operation — housing its services, thrift store and administrative offices in one place.

“We have our thrift store on site, which is another source of income,” she said. “We’ll be able to have events in the building because we have a ballroom. We plan on changing out our ballroom to a conference-style space, so we can expand our education programs – we can bring in the community to talk to them. Of course, our counseling rooms are available, but now we can go beyond that and work with larger groups because of the larger space. We also have space for our prevention programs.”

The Center is also about to launch a capital campaign to earn funds for a new shelter facility on the Landa Street property that would house the agency’s services and various spaces of living to accommodate families and individuals, as well as a kennel for clients who have pets. The proposed facility would house about 90 people, according to Monreal.

To celebrate the agency’s 37th anniversary and its new location, the Center will host an open house and community partner fair on July 28 from 4-7 p.m. at the facility at 655 Landa St.

The open house will include guided tours and engaging activities for individuals of all ages, making it a family-friendly event.

Additionally, local organizations, businesses and community groups will come together at the event to showcase their services, initiatives and resources.

“We found that now is the right time to open up the doors and share with the community what we are doing as the Crisis Center,” she said. “This is also a way to be transparent with what we are doing and to bond with the community. It is a commitment to make sure that everyone understands what services we provide and is able to get information.”

The Center is a partner organization with the McKenna Foundation. The Foundation’s board recently awarded the Center a $125,000 grant as part of McKenna’s basic living needs portfolio.

If you or someone you know needs immediate help with crisis services, information or referrals, call the Center’s 24-hour crisis line at 800-434-8013 or 830-620-4357 or text 830-310-2199.

Walk-ins are welcome at the office at 655 Landa St. from 9 a.m.-5:00 p.m. Monday through Friday. There is no need to make an appointment to receive immediate crisis intervention and advocacy services.

If you are in danger and need immediate assistance, call 9-1-1.

To learn more about the Center and how they serve the community or to volunteer and donate, visit www.crisiscenternb.org.