Homelessness in New Braunfels: A Tale of a Growing Town
Comal County continues to be among the top 5 fastest growing counties in the country. Expansion, while good for the economy, does have downsides. For instance, affordable housing is harder to find. Unfortunately, when the number of affordable housing options does not keep up with the growth of the community, individuals and families may face real housing insecurity. When this issue is combined with life crises such as health concerns, job loss, family conflict, or divorce, more people in our community may be at risk of experiencing homelessness.
Did you know that Family Promise of Greater New Braunfels is just one aspect of a much larger coordinated effort to combat homelessness in our region?
This effort, primarily spearheaded by Comal County Homeless Coalition, includes organizations such as the Crisis Center of Comal County, NB Housing Partners, Connections, Salvation Army, Family Life Center, Hill Country MHDD, NB Food Bank, McKenna Foundation, and the City of New Braunfels.
Every year since 2008, local leaders have conducted a “Point-in-Time” (PIT) count to get a sense of the needs in the community. The count surveys people in shelters and on the streets as well as youth in schools who may be experiencing homelessness or housing insecurity. They want to determine who is homeless, why are they homeless, and what resources they need immediately and over time.
When the results of the survey are tallied, local government, churches, and agencies utilize this information for responding to the ever-changing needs of our growing town.
For example, roughly 9 years ago it was determined that there was a gap in services for homeless families, particularly those who had not experienced domestic violence or sexual assault. As a response to that need, local leaders launched an affiliate of Family Promise, and Family Promise of Greater New Braunfels was born.
Most recently, there has been a clear gap in services for couples who don’t have children or individuals who have not experienced domestic violence or sexual assault.
Gruene United Methodist Church took the lead in addressing this gap by providing a cold-weather shelter. However, this meant that a warm place to sleep was provided only when the weather was predicted to be 35 degrees or below, and it had to be decided 24 hours in advance if they were going to open doors. This shelter opened several times in 2018 and 2019. While this shelter provided crucial support during the coldest days of the year, a gap in services remained and there were still many nights that people were living on the streets in our community.
In fall 2019, the McKenna Foundation chose to move forward with addressing apparent gaps in services and hired expert consultant Dr. Robert Marbut to study our community and prioritize initial steps toward addressing these gaps. Robert Marbut is the founding president of San Antonio’s homeless shelter Haven for Hope and current head of the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness which coordinates with 19 federal departments and agencies to address homelessness. As part of his research, Dr. Marbut interviewed existing community resources and spent several nights on the streets of New Braunfels doing research. He came back with multiple recommendations.
One of his recommendations was for the Comal County Crisis Center to expand its bed space and consider offering beds for women experiencing a housing crisis in addition to the agency’s existing services. The Comal County Crisis Center did just that, basically doubling its capacity to serve a larger, more diverse population. The ribbon-cutting for the new space occurred in October of 2020.
A second recommendation was to operate a shelter during the winter months to get a better idea of the issues people face and the resources that are missing within the community. This would help with determining the next steps to address the most prevalent needs. In early 2020, a winter shelter was opened in a building loaned from the New Braunfels Housing Authority. This shelter was essentially one large room with rows of cots, which offered meals, counseling, healthcare, and assistance with employment and housing. The shelter remained open for two and a half months and served 107 unduplicated individuals (men and women). 75% of those individuals were living in New Braunfels prior to becoming homeless.
Once the shelter opened and began serving individuals, it became very clear that the community needed an ongoing shelter to serve those experiencing homelessness and to link individuals to area resources to prevent homelessness whenever possible. The winter shelter offered much more than a place to sleep. Unfortunately, there was not continued community financial support, so the doors closed on March 16, 2020, right as the town shut down due to COVID.
We know that with the economic impact of the current COVID pandemic, many more individuals and families are reaching a crisis point in their struggle to make ends meet and are at high risk of homelessness. What would it say about our community if we chose to ignore their needs?
New Braunfels Responds with A New Shelter
Through the leadership of the McKenna Foundation and NB Housing Partners, steps are being taken to offer a hotel-based shelter for residents in our community who are unhoused. Kellie Stallings, who has been with Connections for the past 26 years, will serve as the director of the new shelter that hopes to be open by February.
The shelter space could serve as many as 34 individuals at a time, with most meals provided by Salvation Army. The length of an individual stay would depend on acuity level and individual participation in case management services.
The goal of the shelter is not merely to get people off the streets but to provide a comprehensive array of support that assists people in achieving stability which allows them to move forward. This time, the shelter will focus on housing first. This means the ultimate goal is to provide a low-barrier, temporary housing option with a focus on gaining more permanent housing. The goal is to assist individuals who are experiencing homelessness with moving to permanent housing as quickly as possible, with other supportive services as the secondary goal.
The community is also working on a comprehensive system, called Coordinated Entry, that would help people get the needed services, so those most vulnerable residents do not fall through the cracks in community services.
Coordinated Entry is a process developed to ensure that all people experiencing a housing crisis have fair and equal access and are quickly identified, assessed for, referred, and connected to housing and assistance based on their strengths and needs. In this way, local providers will share data and referrals through a management information system, which will reduce the number of times a person seeking help has to repeat information and allows community providers to more effectively coordinate efforts.
When the shelter is open, they will need our support.
The new shelter will certainly need monetary donations as well as hygiene products, beanie hats, blankets, etc. For more information about specific ways you can help or get involved, please contact Kellie Stallings directly at 830-606-9526 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.