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City council receives homelessness assessment results
The Homelessness Needs Assessment recently conducted found three critical needs in San Marcos that include critical relief services and housing solutions, comprehensive, accessible data and collaboration, coordination and leadership among key homeless service providers.
The San Marcos City Council received a presentation and held a discussion regarding the needs assessment conducted in partnership with Texas State University during the council’s Tuesday afternoon work session.
Dr. Rebecca Davio from the Texas State University Department of Geography introduced the speakers and thanked staff, council and members of the team who assisted with the assessment.
Kyle Grissom, a Texas State University graduate student from the Sociology program, gave a summary of the assessment that included the project purpose, methods and critical needs that were identified through the assessment.
Matt Pantuso from the Texas State University Institute of Government Innovation presented feedback from encampments and site visits taken while conducting the assessment.
“Hearing the voices of people currently experiencing homelessness was critical to our understanding of their fundamental humanity and the communication issue related to the system of support,” Pantuso said.
Pantuso reported that those homeless individuals come from all different ages, backgrounds, races and ethnicities and while some do suffer from mental health and substance abuse issues, however, that isn’t always the case and that stigma should be reduced.
A need for better communication and transportation were other issues raised during the presentation along with confusion among those transitioning out of homelessness regarding the system of support.
“When asked how the system worked, one motel resident raised her arms in exasperation and said ‘That’s what I want to know.’ It's one thing to have to deal with a large system and it’s another to try and navigate a complex and incoherent one,” Pantuso said.
While presenting information about the population of those experiencing homeless, Pantuso brought up that many service providers expressed a need for case management. He then briefly talked about Homeless Management Information Systems (HMIS) and how the city has bought licenses for HMIS and some nonprofits have begun to use it. However, the best data will come once it’s more widely used.
Evidence of changes in the population was also presented with an increase based on numbers from both a 2019 Point-in-Time Count and data from a local domestic violence shelter.
With low-income housing options being limited and overutilized, the presentation suggested the need for “housing first.” Pantuso also spoke of a problem with communication and collaboration with service providers.
“Distrust was apparent in these interviews, focus groups and surveys because various service providers may offer similar services at times there’s a sense of competition for funding and other resources rather than collaboration,” Pantuso said.
Pantuso also presented a barrier due to the lack of a defined relationship between service providers and the city.
Besides housing, data and collaboration, Pantuso identified the critical relief services including case management, identification documents, transportation, mental health services and homelessness prevention.
The recommendations presented following the assessment included identifying a lead planning and coordinating agency; facilitating collaboration among all community stakeholders; developing a strategic plan to systematically address the critical relief and housing solution gaps and collecting and analyzing data to quantify needs and measure successes.
The presentation suggested hiring a professional mediator or facilitator for service providers, to which Councilmember Alyssa Garza agreed along with the use of HMIS. Garza also questioned how the city can further engage with unhoused residents.
Davio suggested considering finding representatives to be on a strategic planning committee to ensure recommendations come back to the fundamental needs as well as potentially partnering with Texas State to collect stories and rationale from unhouse residents.
Councilmember Maxfield Baker agreed with the mediator idea and suggested working with the housing authority to assess housing needs and how they can better serve those in need.
Mayor Jane Hughson questioned which would need to come first, case management or long-term housing like the presentation suggested in order to begin finding a solution.
“Our intent was more to say, ‘make sure you don’t forget about the need for long-term housing,' that’s something that has to be there, as you say, it is more complicated, it is harder,” Davio said.
It was determined that in regards to agenda items, the Workforce Housing Committee would work towards adding an agenda item for future meetings that ensure previously approved Low Income Housing Tax Credit (LIHTC) projects do not include barriers that would prevent individuals from receiving assistance due to substance abuse issues.
The Homelessness Committee will also work on an agenda item to bring to the table regarding HMIS.
To view the full agenda and meeting, visit http://san-marcos-tx.granicus.com/ViewPublisher.php?view_id=9.