Survey finds more women, veterans without homes; advocates say gaps must be filled

EAST TEXAS (TYLER MORNING TELEGRAPH) - At their meeting to go over the latest annual homelessness report, members of the East Texas Human Needs Network reiterated there is a lot of work to be done and gaps to be filled in the community.

"We know there are issues in our community that can't be met by one organization alone," said Christina Fulsom, a representative for the East Texas Human Needs Network.

One of the biggest gaps exists for emergency shelters.

"There are shelters, but not everyone qualifies for them," Fulsom said.

Shelters are available at The Salvation Army, East Texas Crisis Center and Andrews Center, but they serve specific populations. Hiway 80 Rescue Mission is raising money and needs $250,000 for a facility, said the Rev. Antonio Christian, case manager with the nonprofit.

The annual Point in Time Homeless Survey is conducted nationwide on a designated night in January. Volunteers fan across the community to shelters, known encampments, and hotels to talk to those who don't have a place to call their own.

This year's survey sampled 238 respondents. Of those, 181 (76 percent) were adults and 57 (24 percent) were children. While single adults represented the highest number of respondents at 74 percent, homelessness in families continued to rise and was recorded at 18 percent this year.

"This is the first time that the number of women has risen to 40 percent," Mrs. Fulsom said. "And the number of homeless children recorded by the school district is usually greater, because children have to go to school, so they may have ones that we don't find, who might be couch surfing."

Other gaps in services that were pointed out at the meeting included transitional housing and permanent support housing. The only community that has access to permanent support housing is military veterans. Through a Department of Housing and Urban Development grant, 25 vouchers are available for veterans to have access to housing. All of the vouchers are being used, Mrs. Fulsom said.

The number of homeless veterans also continues to rise. This year's report states that 21 percent of the homeless population are veterans, and 70 percent are not receiving their VA benefits.

Although there were slight decreases in the number of people who are chronically homeless in Smith County, the average number of days spent homeless increased from 90 to 150.

"In general, people are having (a) difficult time finding employment," Mrs. Fulsom said in an interview last week. "Employers are much more likely to hire someone who has a job already."

This year, the homeless in Smith County reported their top five basic needs as transportation (55 percent); food and clothing (54 percent); job training and placement (53 percent); food stamps (46 percent); and case management (32 percent).

According to the release, respondents have historically cited a lack of transportation as their top reason for unemployment.

"This year, (we) didn't ask specifically, 'What is the reason for your homelessness?' It wasn't included in the survey," Mrs. Fulsom said. "But they still listed transportation as the No. 1 need. And there is a great self-awareness that if they were better trained, it might be easier. … We think those resources are available, just not accessible. Maybe people can't get to the services being offered because of work or the time they're accessible. If you have a job can't make it to the resources that are only available from 8 to 5."

On April 23 and 24, the Texas Homeless Network and the East Texas Human Needs Network will offer workshops on designing permanent supportive housing programs. Call 903-216-3211 for more information or visit to register.


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