The Hill Country Homeless Coalition has identified two goals for the coming year, Family Endeavors case manager Gary Powers said recently as the group wrapped up its second meeting.
“I think the No. 1 and 2 goals are finding low-cost housing and transportation,” Powers said.
Reaching out to other groups around the area to form a strong network of services is another priority as winter approaches.
Unlike San Antonio and larger metropolitan areas, Kerr County lacks public transportation, a situation Hill County MHDD Centers veterans services west director Mike Cagle said impacts a person’s ability to find and retain work, meet appointments and other daily needs.
“The problem is that transportation is too expensive to begin with,” Cagle said. “Being able to find a city bus or transit system that would charge affordable rates just to go to the grocery story would help.”
The Alamo Area Council of Governments provides ART shuttle bus service between Kerr County and San Antonio, but rides are scarce and must be scheduled weeks in advance, coalition members noted.
Veterans receiving care through the Kerrville VA Medical Center may reserve rides on a shuttle bus to San Antonio that also has time and availability restrictions.
Cab services are very limited around the Hill Country, and are too expensive in many cases, Cagle said.
Who is homeless?
Another challenge looms — defining who is “homeless” and how to count them — ahead of the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s yearly homeless Point-in-Time Count in January.
The survey uses volunteers to count homeless people using shelter services and those living in streets, parks and other areas in January, the peak of winter.
Volunteers are being accepted to take part in the count. For more information, call Powers at 353-0095.
Defining who is “homeless” also will allow services to be streamlined to begin identifying ways to prevent the issue, according to Society of St. Vincent de Paul conference president Debra Payne.
“A lot of the people we see are ‘couch surfers,’ who are staying in private homes, but don’t have a permanent address,” Payne said.
Officials in San Antonio and many urban areas don’t tally those people in their counts, Powers noted, which negatively impacts funding requests and disbursements.
Others, including both transients and permanent residents, live in a handful of weekly hotels — an expensive and scarce option that often are more expensive on the back end than regular apartments that can require prohibitive rental and utility deposits up front.
Affordable housing is a perennial challenge in Kerr County, but it is virtually impossible to find it for Section 8 recipients or low income residents, group members noted.
The Hill Country Veterans Center staff often places clients in local weekly residences, but finding vacancies can be difficult, according to Cagle.
Keeping them in permanent housing is even harder for those on fixed incomes, Cagle added.
“I know that with the veterans that we see at the center, by the time they are done paying just for rent and expenses, they are down to $100 for the month,” Cagle said. “It’s embarrassing.”
The coalition is reaching out to Kerr County and the city of Kerrville to establish working partnerships to facilitate services.
Efforts also are being made to reach out to county governments, churches and other organizations in neighboring Gillespie, Kendall, Bandera and Kimble counties.
“The more, the merrier,” Powers said. “We are a balance of state powers, so we will cover all of these areas. The more people we have, the louder our voice will be when it comes time to ask for money.”
The bulk of state funding goes to homeless services in Houston, Dallas, San Antonio, Austin and El Paso, Powers noted, leaving all other areas to compete against each other for funds.
Two larger cities, Corpus Christi and Laredo, also are exploring funding homeless coalitions, Powers said.
In recent weeks, veterans and others have questioned tenancy application procedures and other issues at Freedom’s Path, a veterans apartment complex slated to open at the Kerrville VA Medical Center in December.
Rumors that units would be opened to the general public due to a tenancy shortage are wrong, according to site manager Corey Keller.
“The apartments are for veterans only right now,” Keller said.
Hands often tied on funding
Another hurdle local agencies face is funding restrictions.
Society of St. Vincent de Paul and Christian Area Ministries operate food banks and provide other limited assistance to the general public, but private funding is tight.
By law, the Hill Country Veterans Center only assists honorably discharged veterans, a population Powers and Cagle said only represents a small portion of the area’s homeless population.
That left the staff in a bind earlier this year, as they and the Military Veteran Peer Network shouldered the responsibility for conducting the area’s first homeless survey.
Two federal mandates end in late December to identify homeless veterans, the End Veteran Homelessness Initiative and the 25 Cities Initiative.
The 25 Cities Initiative, which targeted cities with the 25 largest homeless veteran populations, included only one Texas city: Houston.
Kerr County, like most places in Texas, didn’t participate in the End Veteran Homelessness Initiative.
Finding warm, safe sleeping quarters are another issue that looms as winter’s chill begins to descend this weekend, when overnight temperatures are predicted to reach into the 40s.
South Texas Health Care System homeless veterans health care
case manager Tony De Bona proposed a network of nightly warming shelters with donated food, based on a model used on the East Coast.
“They could take turns each night, so no one has to do it all,” De Bona said.
For more information, call Cagle at 792-7511, or De Bona at 210-616-8192.
The coalition will meet at 10:30 a.m. Dec. 3 at the Hill Country Veterans Center, 411 Meadowview Lane.
This article was written by Victoria Aldrich from Kerrville Daily Times, Texas and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.