The more than 3,300 homeless youth in the Central Texas region now have more resources to help them find secure housing, after the federal government allocated more than $2 million to local organizations combating homelessness.
The Heart of Texas Homeless Coalition received a $2.23 million grant from the U.S. Housing and Urban Development Department to develop and implement projects and strategies over the next two years to help homeless youth under age 25 secure housing. It was one of eight rural communities in the country selected by the department to be part of this grant, according to a press release.
The Heart of Texas Region MHMR, The Cove and the Waco Family Abuse Center each received a portion of the grant to further develop programs to help homeless youth find secure housing. MHMR received the bulk of the grant, $1.7 million, to hire staff and create initiatives to help homeless youth find housing, whether they are leaving the foster care or juvenile justice system or youth under 25 with no permanent residence.
The Cove, a nonprofit teen “nurturing center,” received $311,520 to further develop its mission of ending youth homelessness. In the past, the Cove has only helped Waco Independent School District students experiencing homelessness by providing them with access to showers, mental health care, dinner, snacks, exercise programs and tutoring, but this grant will allow the center to expand its reach to other school districts in the area, Executive Director Kelly Atkinson said.
Currently, the Cove is open from 1 to 6:30 p.m. because it has been seeing fewer students during the coronavirus pandemic. The center now provides support for virtual learners, in addition to its other services, Atkinson said. During the 2017-18 school year, the center helped 76 high school students identified as homeless through Waco ISD.
“We’re just looking for ways to be able to expand our reach,” she said.
The Waco Family Abuse Center received $216,600 to help young adults who visit the center find housing and receive other social services. The center deals with young adults fleeing violent living conditions, leaving the foster care or juvenile justice system, or sleeping on their friends’ couches.
All three organizations will work in tandem to create a safety net for homeless youth.
MHMR will use the money in several ways to help youth find housing. The Rapid Rehousing Project provides rental assistance to help young adults between 18 and 24 years old get into a place until they can afford their own residence, which could be a month’s rent or up to two years of financial assistance, Heart of Texas Homeless Coalition Chairperson Shaun Lee said.
“A big component of that program also is case management that goes along with it,” Lee said. “While that youth is in the program, they’re also meeting pretty intensely with their case manager to make sure that they’re doing everything they can to maximize their income and benefits and also those skills that it takes to be able to live successfully.”
Some of these young adults are fleeing unsafe situations, which is where the Waco Family Abuse Center comes in. The funds the center received will go toward giving financial assistance to predominantly young women but also young men between 18 and 24 years old trying to escape domestic violence, but parents or pregnant teenagers also qualify for help, Executive Director Kathy Reid said.
“Our goal is to take them from living in some sort of situation where they’ve experienced domestic violence and been dependent on probably their abuser and help them get the skills that it takes and whatever resources they need so that at the end of the time when we work with them they’re stable and able to support themselves,” Reid said. “If you can provide the right resources for these wonderful, wonderful young adult survivors, they have incredible potential to live long, happy lives free of violence.”
Additionally, MHMR will use the grant money to support its Transitional Housing Program. MHMR currently owns a small house near Baylor University, and this funding will allow the organization to house more youth at that house, Lee said.
“A lot of times you might encounter a homeless youth who’s 17,” he said. “Well, no landlord is going to rent to them, but they still need a place to stay. They can stay in the transitional housing unit and be receiving assistance there, and then when they turn 18, they can transition into another housing program with a lease and get them out of that situation.”
MHMR is using the rest of its grant funds to help its new navigation team, which will help youth navigate the new programs as they are identified as homeless or at risk for homeless, until they find housing, Lee said. The money will help fund salaries for several case managers who will help youth find housing through these other programs.
“I run a similar program for adults, and it’s difficult for adults just to be able to navigate this system,” he said. “This will be a navigation team that’s specifically focused on youth and helping them navigate a complex system or trying to find your own place.”
The Heart of Texas Homeless Coalition serves McLennan, Bosque, Falls, Limestone, Freestone and Hill counties.