5 Things We Need (but forget) for Housing Success
What is Houston doing to care for our homeless? Several of you came to our local Hyde Park Civic Association last Monday to hear from Marilyn Brown, CEO of The Coalition for the Homeless. COH brings service providers from around the city together so that those in need can create a plan for comprehensive care. Housing Assessments and ID services are provided while they also meet basic needs with food, healthcare, showers, and laundry. Services are concentrated in one location such as The Beacon downtown. The city has moved to a policy of “housing first” which seeks to provide the stability of shelter and then work toward jobs assistance, sobriety, and other needs rather than expecting stability as a qualifier for housing.
One of our KINDRED community, Donnie, was able to raise his hand and speak to how these more integrated systems are still presenting challenges as struggles to fins housing and work. Even after completing programs with local shelters, he has been unable to find a job so that he can move forward. Marilyn reminded our whole association that there are still gaps and shortcomings, that when we talk about homelessness it isn’t an abstract idea, but people with names and stories like Donnie. Before the meeting was over, Marilyn wrote down his name and promised to investigate his status further. The next day we got the update that unfortunately they don’t yet have funding available to provide housing vouchers for folks like Donnie who are newly (not chronically) homeless, single (not families), and without disability.
There will always be people who experience homelessness because there will always be people who experience crisis. The goal of COH is to get people into housing and services within 30 days. Currently, that process takes an average of 86 days. There’s still room to grow. She shared 5 persisting barriers to housing success:
1. Application fees
Apartments charge an additional fee not covered by the housing voucher. COH keeps a small fund to help with this, but it’s still insufficient to meet all the need.
2. Basic furniture
You got an apartment! Yes! But you probably don’t have anything to sleep on. We heard one story about a woman who laid our every item of clothing she had to create a soft surface to sleep on. Again, COH keeps a small fund to provide three basic furniture pieces: a bed, a chair, and a lamp.
3. Basic household goods
You have a lamp! Yay! But you probably don’t have a lightbulb for that lamp…or sheets…or toilet paper…etc.
4. Basic staple foods
Remember what it cost to set up your first apartment? That first trip to the grocery store? Oil, sugar, salt and pepper, flour…
Getting to your appointments for job interviews and for services requires mobility. One man who had actually had housing was sleeping on the street downtown several days a week because he physically couldn’t take enough buses to get to his job on time. Personally, I refer people to the comprehensive service locations which are a minimum of 3 miles from the church. That’d be a 45 minute walk in the Texas heat without a bike or bus pass.
The arc of justice is long, but it bends towards justice. We know more now than we did two weeks ago, but there’s plenty room to learn. KINDRED, let us pray for the release of those who are captive to homelessness. Let us cling to hope as Donnie does. Let us be an active part of the coming of the kingdom of God where all are cared for in their fullness.