Herald-Zeitung: Data shows 10% rise in homelessness over past year in Comal County

July 19, 2023

From the New Braunfels Herald-Zeitung:

On the morning of Jan. 26, two-person volunteer teams conducted surveys of people experiencing homelessness in select areas of Comal County and passed out supplies to individuals.

The Homeless Coalition’s 2023 Point-in-Time (PIT) count identified an approximate 10% rise in people experiencing homelessness in Comal County this year.

Read more here.

Point-in-Time 2023 count identifies more homeless individuals in Comal County compared to previous counts

July 5, 2023

A homelessness survey conducted during a cold January morning indicates more people in Comal County may not have a permanent roof over their heads this year compared to 2022.

Local agencies and organizations annually conduct a Point-in-Time count as a snapshot of the number of homeless persons on a single day. The survey is conducted throughout the state and the country. However, the count does not capture the total number of people who experience homelessness in the community on any given day or even over the course of a year, likely missing unsheltered individuals.

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 and collaboratively address gaps in community resources.

The results of the 2023 annual snapshot count identified more individuals in Comal County self-reporting as experiencing homelessness compared to prior counts and more people experiencing chronic homelessness.

This year’s Point-in-Time count, conducted by the Comal County Homeless Coalition to determine the extent of homelessness in the community, identified 98 people experiencing homelessness, compared to 89 in the 2022 count. In the 2020 count, 46 homeless individuals were identified. Additionally, the survey identified 82 youth experiencing homelessness or housing instability.

The Point-in-Time count follows the federal definition of homeless: People living in a place not meant for human habitation, in an emergency shelter, in transitional housing or exiting an institution where they temporarily resided.

Of those self-identifying as experiencing homelessness, 45 were unsheltered, meaning they were sleeping on the street or sidewalk, in an outdoor encampment, under a bridge or overpass or in a vehicle.

“There was a 113% increase in the number surveyed between 2020 and 2023 and a 10.1% increase from 2022 to 2023,” said Kellie Stallings, executive director of NB Housing Partners, citing the survey results. “This shows that we are improving on our outreach and ensuring we survey all who are residing in a shelter. At the same time, it also indicates that homelessness is growing in our community.”

The count showed that 59% of those surveyed were experiencing homelessness for the first time. Even more concerning, the survey indicated that 32% had experienced homelessness more than once. The most considerable portion of those individuals, about 40.6%, have experienced homelessness four or more times.

“Homelessness creates or exacerbates health problems, substance addictions, and mental illness,” Stallings said. “It increases exposure to physical violence, police involvement, and the need for emergency care services, straining community resources.”

According to the National Health Care for the Homeless Council, people who are homeless have higher rates of illness and die on average 12 years sooner than the general U.S. population.

Two-person volunteer teams conducted surveys of people experiencing homelessness in selected areas in Comal County during the morning hours of Jan. 26. In addition, volunteers passed out supplies to individuals, regardless of whether they chose to participate in the survey or not.

Most surveyed were between the ages of 25 to 54. However, the most considerable increase of those surveyed was for individuals ages 18 to 24, with a significant increase also seen in youth younger than 18. Currently, 8% surveyed were younger than 18, and 8% were over 65.

The survey also indicated that 22% of those surveyed reported chronic homelessness, defined as individuals living in an emergency shelter, other safe haven or on the streets for six months or longer, compared to 15 during the 2022 count.

Additionally, the count showed a 250% increase in those who have experienced homelessness longer than three years compared to the 2020 survey to 2023 and a 16.7% increase from 2022 to 2023.

“The concern about the growth in those who have experienced homelessness more than once or for longer than six months is the negative impact on the person’s ability to obtain and maintain housing or employment, as well as the negative impact on their health and life trajectory,” Stallings said.

Also, six children under age 18 and five young adults ages 18 to 24 were experiencing homelessness in January. Of those children, two were five to 12 years old.
Of those participating in the count, 5% were veterans, 25% reported a serious mental illness, 9% reported a substance use disorder, and 9% were domestic violence survivors.

“Expanding affordable housing options in the community and increasing comprehensive care is vital, requiring both a healing and a housing focus, to resolve the emotional and physical cost of homelessness for both consumers and the community,” Stallings said.

A separate survey conducted in conjunction with the New Braunfels and Comal school districts identified 82 students experiencing homelessness. The survey found 75% of those individuals reported a history of family violence, 42% reported a history of child abuse, and 36% reported a history of sexual assault.

The National Runaway Safeline reports that family dynamics, abuse or neglect, mental health, and peer issues are the top four reasons a youth might run away or experience homelessness.

“Think about it this way,” the organization’s website states. In a classroom of 30 students, at least one of them will experience homelessness this year, without a safe living environment to call home and forced to couch surf, bounce among relatives and friends, live in shelters or stay on the streets.”

“These types of risk factors really impact future housing and high needs that contribute to long-term housing insecurity if these youth do not receive intervention that changes their current trajectory,” Stallings said.

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

McKenna Foundation awards more than $1 million in grants to Comal County non-profit organizations

June 8, 2023

The McKenna Foundation awarded more than $1 million in grant funding to 12 organizations in Comal County in the first round of grantmaking the organization will undertake this year.

The Foundation awarded $300,000 to the Rock Haus Foundation to assist with improvements, renovations and construction for a planned multi-phase expansion project at the Comal County IDD (Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities) Center on North Street in New Braunfels.

Plans are underway on renovating an existing building that will house the New Braunfels Independent School District’s transition program for special needs students ages 18-22. A second phase will include developing and constructing a community center to house area service providers, medical care, case managers and navigators, and a multi-purpose facility for recreation, education, meetings, conferences, plays and concerts.

Continuing its investment in housing initiatives as part of its basic living needs grant portfolio, the Foundation awarded $200,000 to NB Housing Partners as it transitions from a motel-based model to long-term space for its First Footing program. Renovations are underway at the former fire station on Loop 337 in New Braunfels for use as a permanent facility to house the city’s population experiencing homelessness.

The Salvation Army of New Braunfels was awarded $100,000 for its Home Sweet Home program, which provides services to assist people to move from homelessness to transitional and stable housing. They were also provided funds to help with a mission planning study to assess how best the agency can serve the community.

The Foundation also awarded basic living needs grants to Comal County Habitat for Humanity, Comal County Senior Citizens Foundation, Connections Individual and Family Services, Family Life Center of New Braunfels, Family Promise of Greater New Braunfels, Helping Hands Food Pantry, Provisions Outreach – the Bulverde Food Pantry, New Braunfels Food Bank and STEPS.

“During this grant cycle, we were fortunate to fund impactful work being done for our community through nonprofits in three of McKenna’s strategic initiative areas: hunger, housing and services for people with IDD,” said McKenna Foundation CEO Alice Jewell. “Our nonprofit community is growing and strengthening alongside our community through the development of infrastructure that provides for residents’ needs. We envision a community that cares for everyone in all ways and makes investments in people through partnership with these nonprofits.”

The Foundation’s board approved the grants during its June meeting.

McKenna’s basic living needs grant portfolio is designed to award funding to nonprofit organizations that assist individuals and families in crises with prevention, intervention and services that lead to decreased dependence and improved stability.

Funding areas include programs that provide financial assistance, workforce/employability, food assistance, housing instability/assistance and transportation.

Grant application windows for organizations seeking funding in the areas of health, education, family relationships and community development are upcoming. New and returning applicants are welcome to apply.

The Foundation accepts applications from verified 501(c)(3) nonprofit organizations serving New Braunfels and Comal County residents. In addition, the Foundation maintains a geographic limitation that requires grant funds to be used in Comal County.

The application window for grants in health (physical health, mental health, healthcare support services and access to care) and education (school readiness, education access and support, after-school programs and literacy programs) opens June 12, with applications due July 5.

The application window for grants in family relationships (child and youth development, parenting support, abuse/neglect prevention and senior services) and community development (arts programs, parks and recreation and development of public spaces and services) opens August 15, with applications due Sept. 9.

McKenna began making grants to community nonprofits in 2009 and has since awarded over 500 grants to 85 nonprofit organizations serving New Braunfels and Comal County residents.

Last year, the Foundation surpassed the $25 million mark in grant funding to nonprofits, awarding 36 grants totaling nearly $2 million.

Contact McKenna’s grant team at 830-606-9500 or email grants@mckenna.org for more information. Visit the Foundation’s website at www.mckenna.org.

NB Housing Partners’ First Footing program serves more than 400 individuals in its first 22 months of operation

May 30, 2023

NB Housing Partners’ First Footing program has served 409 unduplicated individuals between the start of operations in February 2021 and November 2022. Additionally, the program has provided 19,599 nights of shelter during that time. Program staffers also diverted 150 individuals were diverted to other resources.

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.

Of those sheltered, 74% have lived in the community for at least six months. The average length of time lived in the community for all individuals sheltered was 13.21 years, with a median of 3.5 years.

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

The program has served individuals representing a cross-section of the community. Currently, 82% of those served are male, while 18% are female; most females are referred to other community resources. While most individuals served are ages 20-59, 4% were under age 20, and 11% were over 60. Some individuals are parents or even grandparents, and some are veterans.

There are many factors that lead to someone experiencing homelessness, including social and economic reasons, notably a rise in housing costs with a lack of an adequate supply of affordable housing options or low wages that result in a housing cost burden for individuals or families. These community reasons are further complicated by individual factors, such as disease and disabilities, past trauma, poor credit history or financial debt, grief, domestic violence, mental health issues, or substance use. The negative stigma associated with homelessness also adds to the hesitancy to seek help.

“What people experiencing homelessness all have in common is they are struggling with their current circumstances and need a hand up, not a handout,” said Kellie Stallings, executive director of NB Housing Partners. “We want to see the positive outcomes continue to grow. We know that crisis housing and support services are only one part of the solution and that long-term housing is the key ‑‑ we are committed to both.”

First Footing staffers found that 57 individuals were already employed at intake, and 116 gained employment after receiving shelter. The program connected 85 people to at least one source of benefit income, such as retirement, disability or food assistance programs, such as SNAP.

The program assisted with attaining 139 identification documents needed for individuals to gain employment or housing and connected 120 people to housing or long-term support providing housing, such as family, friends or treatment.

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.

NB Housing Partners will soon enter the next phase of the First Footing program after entering into a 25-year agreement with the City of New Braunfels to lease the former fire station at 4120 Loop 337 as a permanent facility.

Plans call for NB Housing Partners to invest significant funds in building and property improvements at the site to provide a crisis housing and outreach center, including a comprehensive intake process that helps connect individuals to community resources and housing opportunities, case management, basic needs, meals, medical care, behavioral healthcare, budgeting, employment/job assistance, benefit application assistance, housing navigation and planning, congregate crisis housing (shelter) and transitional housing rooms.

The facility will also serve as a cold-weather shelter room to protect the safety of individuals during extreme weather conditions. The agency is also partnering with Salvation Army for the purchase of land to expand homelessness prevention support and faith-based activities, as well as to add transitional housing for individuals or families that are experiencing housing insecurity and need additional time and support to sustain housing at market-value rental costs.

“The goal is to expand crisis housing and support services for individuals who need assistance moving from homelessness to housing stability, as well as to add to the community’s current capacity of affordable housing options,” Stallings 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.