Poverty and a lack of low-income housing are risk factors for the mentally ill.
“When people are homeless they may have cognitive and behavioral problems that make it impossible for them to work or navigate the system,” said Jane Hamilton, project director and assistant professor at the McGovern Medical School in Houston and part of the housing summit team.
“They need support,” Hamilton said during the Central Texas Regional Housing Summit held in Temple earlier in the month as a collaboration of McGovern Medical School and the Texas Health and Human Services Commission. The summit in Temple was one of 11 regional summits to be held in Texas in 2020.
The goal of the regional summits is to assist local communities in expanding availability and accessibility of affordable housing, enhancing support services and identifying innovative regional solutions to address existing gaps and barriers to housing for vulnerable populations.
People assume the individuals they see living under bridges are there because of substance abuse, Hamilton said. Substance abuse may be higher in the homeless population, but it’s a cause and consequence of not having stable housing.
Lack of housing is expensive and is associated with worsening health and a higher percentage of death among the homeless, Hamilton said.
Data from the region shows between 15 to 25 percent of the population over the age of 65 have an independent living disability.
The average monthly cost of nursing homes is $6,500 a month, Hamilton said. This option is not affordable for most seniors.
“We need solutions to help seniors age, safely, comfortably and affordably in their own home,” she said. “Improving the link between housing and health care is needed.”
The goal of the housing first model is to get people housed fast and options that provide buy-in by clients results in the best outcomes.
During the summit, a panel made up by Bell County Commissioner John Driver; Cinda Hayward, community development administrator, city of Killeen; Killeen Police Officer Kyle Moore; Amanda Tindell, outreach director Steven A. Cohen Military Family Clinic at Endeavors; and Eric Samuels, CEO of Texas Homeless Network, discussed strategic planning gaps and barriers.
Driver, who represents Bell County’s Precinct 4 and sees a loss of affordable housing in the western side of the county, said he would like to see more activity in rehabbing older homes by bringing the structures up to code.
Hayward has worked with affordable housing developments for years in Killeen and one of the needs she hears is about the aging of existing housing.
There is an income-based program, which is federally funded through block grants. Some of the projects include ramps, increased lighting and widening doorways, Hayward said.
An available Section Eight program is a tenant assistance-based rental program. When an entity applies for the program, they can pick a vulnerable population to serve, she said.
“It’s a subsidy for monthly rent,” Hayward said. “There’s a first-time homebuyer program that requires credit worthiness and must live in the home for five years.”
Moore, with the Homeless Outreach Team for the Killeen Police Department, said it’s going to take everyone working together to make the changes people desire.
Driver said an issue that affects all of Bell County is the cost of housing the mentally ill homeless individual in jail. Also, the county is directed to spend $6 million to $8 million for indigent care and the funding comes from taxpayers.
“We should just be looking at developing affordable housing,” Samuels said. “If we have affordable housing in our community, let’s try to keep it.”
There’s a problem when affordable housing moves into the unaffordable range, he said. “We’re going to see people in that housing leave and will be replaced by people who can pay more money.”
Ultimately, it’s going to have a negative effect, Samuels said.
The participants at the summit broke into sessions on housing support services needs and opportunities and on housing needs and opportunities.
Some of the biggest challenges agencies have in providing services to this client base is not understanding the local barriers, including not having transportation to the grocery store, said George Losoya, housing director at the Belton-based Central Texas Council on Governments.
The local health care providers can offer the best medical care, but if that patient lives in an unstable environment and has no access to supportive services, it’s likely that individual could be hospitalized again, which costs the medical system money, Losoya said.
Paula Pollei, a member of the leadership committee of the National Alliance on Mental Illness, has two daughters in their 30s who were diagnosed at age 14 with severe schizophrenia.
“I have a lot of experience on the mental health side of housing,” Pollei said.
A person with mental illness isn’t capable of making plans of everything that needs to be taken care of when they get sick, she said.
The mentally ill resident can lose benefits if they are hospitalized beyond 90 days, she said. The funders believe the individual is in a long-term care facility. Being hospitalized for more than 90 days is not unheard of for a person with mental illness.
“They leave the hospital with no belongings and no home to go to,” Pollei said.
Services provided to people with intellectual development disabilities differ from those offered to the mentally ill.
Losoya said his office’s inability to help some find housing is usually a result of a history of evictions or a criminal record.
Not every person who eats lunch at Feed May Sheep is homeless, but a high percentage are, said Mike Lawson with Feed My Sheep.
The Feed My Sheep clientele are individuals with a mixture of drug addiction, mental illness and other afflictions.
“Housing is an enormous struggle,” Lawson said. “We’ve considered that we may have to own and manage some housing that makes an opportunity for people to get off the street.”
Aly McMillan, vice president for community impact for the United Way of Central Texas who oversees the 2-1-1 helpline, told the group that having the correct information available on the 2-1-1 database will impact how information on local resources are shared.
The inventory of housing is limited, particularly housing for individuals who don’t have stellar pasts.
The housing available to people who have been jailed is abysmal, Lawson said. There may be nine people paying $400 a month for space in a rundown house that has no heat and other questionable utilities.
The landlords don’t want visitors on their property because if a city worker sees code violations, the house will have to be vacated.
D’Nais Mack, housing case manager for the Central Texas Veterans Health Care System, came to Temple from Houston, where there are housing navigators that assist with placing an individual into housing.
There’s little funding for navigators here, Losoya said. Agencies are doing the work of a navigator, but all do it differently.
The area apartment owners and property managers need to hear this message, and they need to know that the renter will be working with a case manager who will help in establishing the necessary resource services.
There are organizations doing good work here and have developed initiatives to serve the homeless, Losoya said.
“What we need is to develop collaborations,” he said. “We need to be talking to each other.”