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.

Comal County IDD Center, Rock Haus Foundation campus expansion underway

June 19, 2023

The building at the corner of Veramendi Avenue and North Street in New Braunfels, which houses the Comal IDD Center, represents a fair share of the history of a city that’s been around for more than 175 years.

In 1934, the school served segregated Hispanic students as the Stephen F. Austin School, according to Bill Barry, administrative coordinator for the Rock Haus Foundation, in remarks to attendees of a recent NB IDEA Forum meeting. The facility was renamed Booker T. Washington School in 1951 when the city’s African-American students were relocated there.

Integration began to take hold as some students were relocated in 1955. By 1960, the district had completed the integration and Booker T. Washington closed­. New Braunfels ISD used the facility as a central kitchen until the 1970s when what was then called Hill Country MHMR started operating programs from the building.

Now, almost a quarter through the 21st century, the building will continue to hold its place in the history of New Braunfels and serve as the foundation of a proposed development and expansion project to assist more adults diagnosed with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

Representatives from Hill Country Mental Health and Developmental Disabilities Center and the Rock Haus Foundation discussed their continuing efforts to help their clients and revealed plans to develop the 5.2-acre Comal IDD Center site into a campus-like setting.

The Foundation, founded in 2017 to support and provide opportunities for adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities in Comal County, acquired the North Street property after a New Braunfels ISD donation last year.

The Foundation’s primary role is fundraising through events and grants for repairs and improvements to the property and research grants to provide various specialized programs to bring to the IDD Center to help improve the quality of life for those enrolled. Such programs include music, art and dance.

Rock Haus works with Hill Country MHDD in their efforts. Twelve Hill Country MHDD staff members tend to the around 30 adults who regularly receive services at the IDD Center.

According to Barry, the first development phase, which is underway, consists of renovating an existing building on the property for students in the NBISD Gateway Transition Program. The program is for students aged 18-22 with special needs who have completed the campus-based portion of their education. The program prepares students and their families for life after attending school, including employment, volunteerism, recreation, transportation and social events.

Renovation of the building has begun, with an expected move-in by Gateway during the 2023-24 school year. NBISD will continue to operate the program, according to Barry.

The plan’s second phase includes developing and constructing a community center to house area service providers, medical services, case managers and navigators, and a multi-purpose facility for recreation, education, meetings, conferences, plays and concerts. A capital campaign to fund community center construction will begin soon.

“Our hope is that we can develop this property into a campus-like setting that will include a number of different buildings,” Barry said. “It wouldn’t just be this one, it would be two or three, but we can envision a number of buildings that are on this campus that are going to serve adults, are going to serve those individuals and provide our community what that need is. Through meetings with our providers and our parents, we’ve learned that there is an incredible need.”

The McKenna Foundation recently awarded a $300,000 grant to the Rock Haus Foundation to assist with the improvements, renovations and construction project.

Intellectual disability is a term used when there are limits to a person’s ability to learn at an expected level and function in daily life.

Developmental disabilities affect an individual’s growth and cognition and include disabilities such as cerebral palsy, autism, muscular dystrophy, down syndrome or fetal alcohol spectrum disorder.

Six to seven million Americans are said to have developmental disabilities. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that as many as one in six children in the U.S. — about 17% — can be living with developmental disabilities.

Donna Brown, director of the Comal IDD Center and who has been employed with Hill Country MHDD for more than 30 years, shared information and educated meeting attendees on the services performed and activities at the center, which includes dance and movement, creative crafting, art empowerment, music enrichment, Rock-the-Haus Dance Parties and tending the vegetable garden center at Cemex.

Activities also include a creative writing class, she said. Brown said she was a true believer that every one of the people she serves has an imagination.

“There’s so many things that we try to offer here, so we open up the world to them,” Brown said. “We don’t want to close the world, and we want the world out there to know that they are productive citizens. They’re part of us. They live here in New Braunfels. Some of them have been here all of their lives. This is their town, too.”

Brown and Berry emphasized in their remarks that plans for the development and construction effort do not call for tearing down the historic school building.

Learn more at rockhausfoundation.org. Additional information on the IDEA Forum and future events can be found by visiting www.nbideaforum.com or emailing ideaforumnb@gmail.com.

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.

Brauntex Theatre to host suicide prevention event in September

June 5, 2023

The Art Deco-styled Brauntex Theatre in Downtown New Braunfels is well known for hosting various events, including films, musical and theatrical productions.

But in September, the Brauntex will host an educational event on a critical community mental health topic: suicide prevention.

In 2011, Sam Eaton gave himself an ultimatum — on Christmas Day, he would either end his life or never think about suicide again.
“I wrote goodbye letters and boxed up my belongings because I believed my life was meaningless and disposable,” Sam says on his recklesslyalive.com website.

In 2020, he published his first book entitled “Recklessly Alive: What My Suicide Attempt Taught Me About God and Living Life to the Fullest.” The book became a No. 1 Amazon best-seller.

On Sept. 13, Sam will share his story to equip and empower the New Braunfels community to engage in real and honest conversations about mental health, depression and suicide. The presentation is free and open to the public. The Walmart Foundation, Downtown Rotary Club of New Braunfels and Sissy Preston sponsor the event.

Maryanne Navickas, the theater’s education and community outreach director, said the idea for a suicide prevention program came as a successful program on dyslexia occurred earlier this year, involving students from area school districts and their parents.

“One of our board members had mentioned to us that she would love for this gentleman to come whose written a book,” Navickas said. “She said it would be great for him to come and speak about suicide prevention. We got in contact with his people, and we’ve got him.”

But Navickas also wanted to include local mental health agencies to participate in the event. That’s when a collaboration with MAP Comal, or Mental Advocacy Partners, started.

“Going to the MAP meeting was instrumental in seeing what’s out there,” she said. “It just opened my eyes. I was looking for something like this.”
MAP Comal is an online and face-to-face resource providing an accessible, confidential connection between those in need and the professionals at local partner organizations who offer help. MAP Comal partners share resource materials, coordinate services and plan community-wide mental health events. The group meets at the McKenna Center monthly.

“Being in this meeting and hearing everyone speaking about how involved they want to be in the community, I felt we needed to be part of that in some way,” she said. “We are a nonprofit, and we have people coming in for performances because we believe the arts are important and want to keep that alive. But we also want to use the Bruantex to make the New Braunfels community feel like a community.”

Plans for the evening are in the works that could include information booths or a panel discussion on mental health issues. Those plans are in the formative stages and will be finalized as the Sept. 13 date approaches.

MAP Comal was created after the McKenna Foundation established a mental health initiative in 2015 to identify community needs, service gaps, and funding priorities. The initiative convened stakeholders, nonprofit organizations, school districts, law enforcement, civic leaders and parents.

For more information about MAP Comal, visit MAPComal.org. For more information about the Brauntex, visit brauntex.org.

If you or someone you know is struggling or in crisis, help is available 24/7. Call or text the National Suicide & Crisis Lifeline at 988 or chat 988lifeline.org. Call the Mobile Crisis Outreach Team of Comal County for local support at 1-877-466-0660 or text 741741.

Confidential crisis support is available for veterans and their loved ones by dialing 988, then pressing 1. Veterans can also text 838255. If someone is in immediate danger, call 9-1-1.

Mobile outreach team ready to respond, offer support to individuals experiencing mental health crisis

May 24, 2023

No matter the situation, there is always hope, and there is always help.

Members of the Hill Country Mental Health and Developmental Disability Centers’ Mobile Crisis Outreach Team, also known as MCOT, are trained professionals ready to respond to individuals experiencing a mental health crisis and needing immediate support.

MCOT is available 24 hours per day, seven days per week, to provide on-site services within the community to individuals or families. MCOT provides crisis services for children and adults, including assessment, case management, crisis follow-up and support necessary for the individual to remain in the community.

Jennifer Nieto, Hill Country MHDD Center’s mental health clinic director in New Braunfels, said the program is designed to reduce mental healthcare access barriers, decrease suicide completion and increase safety.

“Through the resources available to the MCOT, we are now able to expedite the mental health treatment needed to de-escalate the current crisis while providing the tools needed to prevent these situations in the future,” Nieto said. “Working in this field for the last 16 years, I’ve seen treatment options expand and improve, and it feels good to finally be able to provide these services to our community in a timely, trauma-informed and person-centered manner.”

Trauma-informed staff members are dedicated to assisting individuals experiencing behavioral health crises. The crisis hotline is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, by calling 1-877-466-0660.

The nationally proven, evidence-based program is designed to assist neighbors in crisis while saving community resources by reducing the burden on law enforcement, hospitals, school districts and other agencies.

But Nieto emphasized that individuals don’t need to wait or shouldn’t wait until a situation reaches an emergency or immediate danger level to seek help. Prevention is a critical part of the MCOT equation.

“What we are seeing now (since the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic) are fewer calls but more lethality and risk in the call,” she said. “I’m afraid people are waiting longer to get the help they need. Instead of reaching out, they are struggling, self-medicating or otherwise hurting while thinking their symptoms are not ‘bad enough’ to ask for help. As people wait, their situation often gets worse and more intense.”

In the last 12 months, MCOT members have screened 970 individuals in crisis, resulting in 548 safety plans and 422 hospitalizations. Individuals were also referred to community partners for services that helped them avoid hospitalization.

A safety plan is a preventative tool designed to help support those who struggle with mental well-being. This ‘mental health first-aid kit’ includes strategies to keep an individual safe.

“While psychiatric hospitalization has its place in the mental health treatment model, we hope to provide lesser restrictive options so a person’s first experience with mental health care is not waking up in a hospital,” she said. “We hope people will reach out sooner, and feel welcome, cared for, and heard in an outpatient setting before their situation becomes a crisis.”

Nieto added that since the apex of the pandemic, family dynamics have become a primary stressor in patients seeking mental health services.

“Multiple families are living together,” she said, “multiple generations living in one home, probably because of financial concerns – and that is creating stressors for individuals and contributing to the mental health crisis.”

Other primary stressors include depression, work or school stress and finances.

From 2017-2022, MCOT provided lifesaving services to about 7,225 Comal County residents, with most calls resulting in safety plans instead of in-patient hospitalizations. About 5,135 people were referred to community partners.

The McKenna Foundation has supported MCOT since its creation, granting more than $1 million to assist this critical mental health program.

If you or someone you know is struggling or in crisis, help is available 24/7. Call or text the National Suicide & Crisis Lifeline at 988 or chat 988lifeline.org. For local help, call the Mobile Crisis Outreach Team of Comal County at 1-877-466-0660 or text 741741.

Confidential crisis support is available for veterans and their loved ones by dialing 988, then pressing 1. Veterans can also text 838255. If someone is in immediate danger, call 9-1-1. For more information, visit MAPComal.org.

Comal Commissioners issue proclamation recognizing Mental Health Awareness Month

May 23, 2023

With representatives from local mental health care providers and other agencies such as Hill Country Mental Health and Developmental Disabilities Centers, River City Advocacy and Counseling Center, First Footing and CASA of Central Texas looking on, Comal County commissioners on May 4 issued a proclamation recognizing May as Mental Health Awareness Month in Comal County to promote awareness of resources available in the community.

The proclamation stated, “the importance of overcoming mental health challenges are significant and valuable to individuals, families and our community at large.”

“With early and effective interventions,” the proclamation stated, “those individuals with mental health conditions can recover and lead full, productive lives.”

Proclamations and other events are taking place this month as part of National Mental Health Awareness Month, observed in the U.S. since 1949 to raise awareness about mental health and fight stigma, provide support, educate the public and advocate for policies that support the millions of people affected by mental illness.

“I’m thankful with what we have in our community,” Jaime Brogan with Hill Country MHDD said. “Although there are service gaps, I know for certain that members of our community are working hard to close them, and it’s up to us to support them in this mission.”

It’s more important, Brogan continued, “for each of us to develop our own awareness of our own mental health and that of those closest to us because before someone calls the crisis line or calls 9-1-1 or verbalizes a need for help, there are often signs that those of us that are closest to them that they may need support.”

After the presentation, group members journeyed across the street to the Main Plaza to place a green ribbon, the symbol of mental health awareness, on the Freundschaftsbaum Friendship Tree.

Awareness of mental health issues and supporting those affected is essential. According to a survey conducted last year by the Kaiser Family Foundation and CNN, 51% of U.S. adults reported that they or a family member had experienced a severe mental health crisis. The survey also found that half of all adults have experienced anxiety or depression during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Many warning signs indicate a person may be at risk of suicide. Take it seriously if someone you know is talking about or making plans to hurt themselves. Let them know there is hope and encourage them to call or text 988 for help.

For local help, call the Mobile Crisis Outreach Team of Comal County at 1-877-466-0660 or text 741741.

Confidential crisis support is available for veterans and their loved ones by dialing 988, then pressing 1. Veterans can also text 838255. If someone is in immediate danger, call 9-1-1. For more information, visit MAPComal.org.

Texas Suicide Prevention Symposium 2023 coming to New Braunfels

May 23, 2023

New Braunfels will host the Texas Suicide Prevention Symposium 2023 this summer.

The Symposium, slated for June 13-15 at the New Braunfels Civic and Convention Center, is one of the largest gatherings of mental health community partners, providers and stakeholders nationally and regularly attracts a variety of subject matter experts.

In 2022, the virtual Symposium attracted about 1,900 registrants and over 7.5 million social media impressions. This year’s event will serve as the first in-person Symposium since 2016.

This event provides vital technical assistance to Texas communities on suicide prevention. We encourage all stakeholders invested in mental health, suicide prevention, and those serving youth, military, veterans and underserved Texans to attend. There will be a Zoom option for those who cannot attend in person and most sessions will be recorded.

“We really work hard to make this widely available,” said Lisa Sullivan, executive director of the Texas Suicide Prevention Collaborative. “There is great work happening across our state – this is an opportunity to bring everyone together, hear from over 40 national state and local experts and showcase over 40 exhibitors. We know the hard work of suicide prevention happens in our communities and this event is designed to bring the resources to them. We are really excited to have the opportunity to work with New Braunfels on this important event. I think this location is fantastic. The New Braunfels community has been so supportive, and we’re grateful for the support we are receiving.”

The statewide organization supports and administers the Symposium as well as the Texas Suicide Prevention Council — a network of more than 140 statewide partners, local coalitions, military and veteran organizations and institutions of higher education who work together to improve suicide prevention outcomes for Texas.

Sessions on the first day of the Symposium will focus on schools, youth and higher education, presented by South Southwest Mental Health Technology Transfer Center.

Day two will feature sessions on general infrastructure issues that have statewide and local implications, presented by Texas Health and Human Services.

The event’s final day will include sessions focused on service members, veterans and families, presented by Endeavors.

At the Civic Center, one classroom will serve as a wellness room for those who need a break and even partake in art if they wish.

The McKenna Foundation, Mental Advocacy Partners Comal and the Suicide Prevention Council of Comal County are among the local organizations sponsoring the Symposium.

“The Texas Suicide Prevention Symposium is an important event that brings experts to the community to share nationally recognized prevention efforts,” said Kristen Fain, the McKenna Foundation’s program officer. “By supporting this Symposium in New Braunfels, we are taking a crucial step towards creating a safer and more compassionate community for all.”

For more information or to register for the event, visit texassuicideprevention.org/texas-suicide-prevention-symposium-2023.

Follow the hashtag #TxSP23 on Twitter for live updates during the Symposium.

If you or someone you know is struggling or in crisis, help is available 24/7. Call or text the National Suicide & Crisis Lifeline at 988 or chat 988lifeline.org. For local help, call the Mobile Crisis Outreach Team of Comal County at 1-877-466-0660 or text 741741.

Confidential crisis support is available for veterans and their loved ones by dialing 988, then pressing 1. Veterans can also text 838255. If someone is in immediate danger, call 9-1-1. For more information, visit MAPComal.org.