Catherine McCarthy

Homelessness in Texas

by Catherine McCarthy

            Being homeless in the 1600’s meant being “whipped, branded, jailed, indentured, enslaved, or executed,” (Diluio Jr. 2011, 30). Homelessness has been documented in America since the 1640’s (Fisher 2011). It is an old problem that still exists today. According to Robert Fisher of the Plymouth Congregational Church, homelessness was thought to be a moral and character flaw in the 1700 century. A homeless person in that time had to deal with the societal stigma of being homeless and would have to prove their worth (Fisher 2011). According to John J. Dilulio Jr. (2011) from the New York Republic magazine, today’s homeless are victims of abuse, mental illness, alcoholics, drug addicts or poor.  Homelessness transcends socio-economic racial and gender status, yet it seems to particularly affect people with mental illness, lack of affordable housing and lack of jobs for unskilled work. What is the broad picture of homelessness in Texas and what programs are being used to combat the issue?

The Tarrant County Homeless Coalition gives the definition of the homeless as an individual or family who lacks a fixed, and regular adequate nighttime residence (TCHC 2012). It goes on to break down how the new rule funded by HUD categorizes the homeless: literally homeless, imminent risk of being homeless, homeless under other federal statutes and fleeing from domestic violence (HUD 2012).  Peter Rossi, a professor of sociology at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst made a distinction between “literal homeless” and “precariously housed.” The “literal homeless” are those who do not have a regular house, apartment, mobile home, rented room or a shelter to lay their head down at night (Diluio Jr. 2011 28) They sleep in places not intended for this purpose, including bus stations, abandoned buildings, cars, vans, trucks and make shift metal roofed shanties whereas the precariously housed are poor individuals who are about to be evicted, and thrown out by relatives, as they struggle with paying the rent (Diluio Jr. 2011). In Texas, as of 2016, there are an estimated 23,122 homeless people (HUD 2011). Approximately, 7 out of every 10,000 persons in Texas are homeless (“History & Background” 2018). Texas is one of five states in the U.S. that account for the majority of homeless in America (Murphy and MacLaggan 2013).

Mental illness is a main contributing factor to homelessness. Of these homeless Texans, 19% have severe mental illness (Hogg Foundation 2013). The experience of homelessness can elevate the people into psychiatric distress as well as psychosocial vulnerability (Castellow 2015). According to the BioMed Central Journal, homeless persons living with a mental illness experience multiple deprivations, such as cognitive deficits, depression and higher risks of being physically ill, which can cause risks of suicide (Godikumar 2015). Behavioral health problems can prevent people from having stable relationships with developing trust with others. One of the issues they experience is shame from being in the situation they are in (Jimenez 2015). Mental illnesses can affect a person’s physical health in chronic ways such as aches and pains, obesity, fatigue, nausea, weight loss, sinus issues, headaches, irritated skin, anxiety and tics and twitches (Hayward 2016). According to Anuj Shah, a Professor of Behavioral Science, poverty affects the cognitive functions in the brain with the juggling of the demands of lacking food, a home and having their needs not met. Many homeless people are forced to think critically about every day decisions and they see life through a different lens. Also, the lack of money can make it hard to think clearly, leaving a person to feel mental fatigue (Andress 2018).

Addressing the needs of those homeless who are mentally ill is more difficult. Mental Health Mental Retardation (MHMR) of Tarrant County offers programs for mental health services for those in crisis, by monitoring and providing programs for group counseling as well as individual counseling. They encourage mental health recovery with safe affordable housing options and housing resources. Supported case management is offered with training of community reintegration skills for the person dealing with mental illness. In Texas, another source of help for the homeless is the Healthcare for the Homeless. They work closely with public health providers and the county health department as well as the Harris County Center for Mental Health to provide direct patient care for the homeless who are vulnerable and in need of immediate care (“History & Background” 2018).

The mentally ill homeless in Texas can benefit from advocacy programs like the Hogg Foundation for mental health. This foundation supports a permanent affordable housing community. Permanent supportive housing is housing support with safety and affordability, community integration, full rights of tenancy, immediate access to housing, availability of voluntary and flexible services and functional separation of housing management and health and human services. The Hogg Foundation encourages advanced wellness and recovery, people who have been through the process themselves or have gone through it with a family member can know what it is like to experience the hope of recovery (McGraw 2012).

One major issue facing all homeless people is the lack of affordable housing. The city of Fort Worth began to address the needs of the homeless after an article by reporter Jeff Guinn was published in the Fort Worth Star Telegram in 1997. Guinn wanted to experience what it would be like to live the life of a homeless man for one week. He set out for the quest in April. Guinn chose April thinking it would be warm. Guinn discovered his first night to be cold and rainy. He found that the homeless were not about camaraderie, they were all about themselves and did not prove to be a source of support to Guinn or one another. He found he could get a free bowl of soup from a nearby Mexican restaurant. By 11 p.m. he was ready to find a place to sleep. He found a parked cargo van that was not locked and crawled in there for the night. He was able to use the bathrooms at the library. For Guinn, dignity was nowhere to be found. People did not make eye contact with him nor did they speak with each other. Union Gospel and the Presbyterian Night Shelters had lines forming down the block simply for a bed for one night. From this experience, Guinn deduced that by sharing this personal experience with others through his reporting of the homeless situation in Fort Worth, this would call attention to this problem. As a result, community leaders and politicians decided to try to address the issue. This was done by starting the Day Resource Center (DRC) in 1999 which offered services to the homeless such as showers, bathroom facilities, and life skills training. An average of 350 homeless people visited the center each day (Branch 2012).  Eventually, this led to the center opening a complex with twenty-four apartment units. The complex housed people of whom 80% were homeless within that neighborhood. This effort of combatting homelessness eventually led to DRC putting housing first with rapid rehousing programs used to improve housing for the homeless people. This provision provided a safeguard of hope. DRC has partnered with the Paulos Foundation which developed the Palm Tree Apartments that are a permanent supportive housing community complex (Day Resource Center for the Homeless 2017).  The biggest impediment of ending homelessness is the extreme shortage of affordable housing. Of all the communities nationwide Dallas-Fort Worth-Arlington ranks among the lowest for available and affordable homes for low income people.

Over the last decade Texas, has made progress in a much-needed solution to solving the problem with affordable housing for the homeless. One such example is the Emergency Solution Grants (ESG) program which is a grant award funded by nonprofit organizations, cities and counties of Texas. These programs help the homeless to regain some stability quickly. The ESG program provides help in operating shelters, provides essential services to the shelter residents and rapidly re-house homeless individuals. The Housing Choice Voucher assistance program of Section 8 assists with rental payments on behalf of the homeless individual.  There are income stipulations, and the size of the family is considered. The Texas Neighborhood Stabilization Program (NSP) which is a HUD-funded program implemented to help and re-develop foreclosure properties that may provide a livable home for a homeless individual. The state of Texas also has a Section 811 Project Rental Assistance Program (PRA) which provides rental assistance for extremely low-income persons with disabilities (Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs).

In addition to the other programs a new facility in Fort Worth, Texas is True Worth Place. It opened in 2016 to help the homeless, this facility serves individuals based on five core values: respect, compassion, integrity, responsibility, and hope. True Worth Place offers a safe and clean day shelter that includes restrooms and showers, laundry facilities, telephones, computers and temporary storage. It helps individuals with healthcare, employment, education, mental health, and substance abuse treatment, benefits, as well as critical documents such as acquiring a social security card and ID and birth certificate.

Another major issue for the homeless is the lack of jobs for unskilled labor which contributes to homelessness. Clean Slate, is a program offered through Fort Worth Presbyterian Night Shelter (“Clean Slate” 2018). It is designed to erase any issue that may cause the homeless from working. The goal is to provide work for the individuals that will allow them to feel like part of a community. Clean Slate provides a place to live at the shelter. The shelter partners with the community to provide the homeless with jobs. For example: The Clean Slate workers provide litter pickup, make-ready cleaning, commercial kitchen rental centers, and commercial janitorial services. These guests are welcome to work with the program indefinitely; however, it is with the hope that the training will prepare them to transition permanently into the workforce.

Star of Hope Mission in Houston offers life changing positive programs, these structured programs are examples that encourage educational opportunities for spiritual growth, life management, employment and recovery (Star of Hope). There are programs for men as well as women and family development classes. Compassion is the model for a purposeful out reach. Community partners and donors help to transform the people who live in poverty. They inspire the homeless to rise above their circumstances and set measurable goals.  Many services are offered to help set them on a path to success. Career development curriculum, personal development, spiritual life programs, workforce development, computer learning centers, counseling, emergency walk-in centers, health clinics, new hope substance abuse recovery, on-site day care, partnership with other agencies, and new journey class transition-age youth initiative programs are among the many opportunities offered for growth in making positive changes in the lives of the homeless.

Solving the problem of homelessness is a marathon not a sprint. If the problems causing homelessness are met, success can be accomplished. Purposefully, addressing the mentally ill, the lack of affordable housing for the homeless and providing skills for gainful employment solves many of the issues in providing a solution to help the homeless. Some of the government programs are working that are implemented for the homeless in Texas, but more needs to be done to continue to address the issues for those who have not been included in the solutions. More funding is needed to sustain the ongoing efforts for the plight to end homelessness in Texas as well as the United States. Regardless of their circumstances, the homeless deserve to be treated with dignity while meeting their needs. Strong communities are built on partnerships and collaboration in setting a goal to improve life for the less fortunate. The state and local governments must persevere by continuously seeking news ways to sprint in the race toward improving homelessness.



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