Daily Record graphic by Colton Ashabranner
New group addresses homeless population
When Hannah Durrance moved to San Marcos in 2012, she was a homeless mother of four children looking for somewhere to go.
“My son was born with health issues. And I had been working two jobs. One of the businesses closed, and the other one – I couldn’t get child care and ended up having to leave that job,” she said. “And I had no place to go because I couldn’t afford to pay my rent. … Where I lived, I was threatened with having CPS remove the children because I was homeless.”
She had been enrolled in college and wanted to continue her education. She came to San Marcos because there is a university here and she had a friend who offered to help look after her children. That friend also fed Durrance every evening while she worked to get into school and find financial stability.
“The waiting list for public housing was astronomical,” she said. “It was a three-year waiting list.”
Durrance found a place to rent, but then the house where she and her children were staying flooded in 2015.
“We lost everything that we owned,” she said, “and I had to start over.”
Durrance and her children moved into a motel until she could find another house to rent. When she did, the landlord raised the rent by nearly $200 in less than a year.
“Which, for a single mother … I couldn’t afford that,” Durrance said. “And there just weren’t resources. And it took me so long to go around and find those resources. It took time away from work … and my family.”
Durrance is now part of a group working to make it easier for people who are homeless or on the brink of losing their housing to get help.
“There are several groups that have tried to do something about homelessness in the area, but they’re all very disconnected,” she said. “Our main goal is to try to create a space that’s consolidating all the efforts of the community in one location.”
A group of individuals and organizations has started meeting to discuss ways to consolidate the efforts of people trying to find solutions to homelessness in San Marcos. The group – which has no official name yet – met for the first time at the San Marcos Public Library on May 20 and is meeting again at the library at 7 p.m. on June 4.
The Homelessness Issue
According to the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness, as of January 2018 there are about 25,310 Texans experiencing homelessness on any given day. Of those, 3,404 were individuals experiencing chronic homelessness. In San Marcos, low income levels can put individuals and families in danger of losing their housing. The United Way’s ALICE (“Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed”) report released in January showed a poverty rate of 31 percent in San Marcos, with another 33 percent living below the ALICE threshold of $52,956 for a family of four or $19,428 for a single adult. (College students living off campus were included in the ALICE study.)
Durrance pointed out that the common requirement that a renter’s income be three times whatever rent is can keep low-income San Marcans out of housing. For instance, she said, it costs about $1,100 a month for a family to live in a motel.
“If they can pay $1100 a month for a motel room, they can pay $800 a month for an apartment,” she said, but that would require an income of $2,400 a month or more.
“That’s a huge obstacle for low-income families,” she said. “... The flood, and rising housing costs since the flood, and low income-level jobs in this area have created this situation.”
Durrance also said that the community pours a lot of effort into fundraisers and toy drives that provide homeless children with Christmas presents, but not a lot of coordination exists among efforts to give those children a place to keep and play with those toys.
“There’s no place in a motel room to keep a bicycle,” she said.
Then there are people who are not homeless yet but are on the brink of losing their housing.
“Once someone loses their home, the cost of getting them back into housing is astronomical,” Durrance said. “... What if we could go ahead and keep people housed, and pay a small amount to keep them housed?”
Durrance said her group is working with existing organizations and individuals on ways to meet the needs of those experiencing homelessness or on the verge of homelessness more efficiently.
“There was another organization that has been working on some homelessness issues … but it’s a lot of individuals who have been taking on this burden themselves,” she said. “... It’s a band-aid system.”
Durrance said she envisions having a caseworker to help meet individual needs, whether those needs involve financial assistance, mental health resources, filling out paperwork, getting help with drug or alcohol addiction, and more.
She said talking to individuals and finding out what it is they need is important.
“Because we’re so busy looking at the situation and thinking we have the answers,” she said. “We’re looking at them and demeaning them and telling them … you didn’t succeed because you didn’t make the right decisions.”
The group has reached out to the city, which has been working on affordable housing initiatives, to look at ways to prevent or alleviate homelessness in San Marcos, Durrance said. The group is also working on getting its nonprofit status and raising funds.
“So far we only have $500, but it’s $500,” Durrance said.
The group is looking for community members to volunteer their time and services, such as counseling and money management.
“We want to make a holistic approach to meet the needs that exist in the community,” she said. “We have people in the community who are interested in helping – who want to give their time, who want to give their resources. It’s just consolidating that effort.”
For more information, visit the “San Marcos, TX underserved/homeless support” Facebook group page or contact Durrance through Facebook.