The number of homeless people in McLennan County decreased in 2018, continuing a decade-long trend, according to the latest government figures.

But those figures don’t reflect the number of people who are a paycheck away from losing their home due to a lack of affordable housing in the area, local leaders say.

Homelessness across the state increased in 2018, according to the latest annual Homeless Assessment Report to Congress by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

In McLennan County, 188 people were classified as homeless in 2018, according to the HUD report released this month. That is down from 221 in 2017, and 431 in 2008. Since 2013, the number homeless persons in the county has been below 300.

Homeless

A homeless person takes shelter on a loading dock near South Second Street and Jackson Street. 

For those who do get on their feet, the options for affordable housing are slim, Mission Waco founder Jimmy Dorrell said.

“The lack of affordable housing is the killer,” he said. “So few places you can live on minimum wage.”

Even with a full-time job, some still don’t make a living wage, or enough to help themselves, or their family, get off the street in a permanent way, Dorrell said.

Compassion Ministries provides case management and referral services to reintegrate homeless individuals and families, as well as those on the verge of homelessness, into permanent housing and employment.

Habitat for Humanity and the city of Waco officials do a great job in providing resources, but affordable housing in safe neighborhoods is a matter this community must face beyond what’s currently provided, said Jill McCall, Compassion Ministries executive director. McCall said it is easier to keep someone in a home through rental or utility assistance, than logistically get someone into a home. There are programs that help, but they just aren’t enough.

So many people are one paycheck away from being kicked out of their home, she said. There is a large group of people desperately trying to stay afloat, working full-time jobs, and still struggling, she said.

“In a perfect world what my wish list for our situation here in Waco would be, I think it would be the prevention side of it with help with keeping people in their homes,” McCall said. “They are trying ... they are the working poor and they cannot find a decent safe place that they can afford to live in.”

On any given night in Texas, 25,310 experience homelessness, according to HUD’s report to Congress. Roughly 28 million people live in Texas.

“We know, however, that a lack of housing that people can afford is the fundamental obstacle to making further progress in many communities,” said Matthew Doherty, executive director of the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness, in a news release.

David Jackson

David Jackson, who has been in Waco for two years, sits at a park bench near the Brazos River.

States across the nation saw varying figures as 31 states and the District of Columbia reported decreases in homelessness from 2017 to 2018 while 19 states reported increases. HUD’s national estimates are based on data received by about 3,000 cities and counties across the nation that participate in a homeless count on one night in January along with a compilation of other information.

Resolving homelessness is more than putting a roof over someone’s head, said Steve Hernandez, McLennan County Veterans Service Officer. The community is rich in short-term solutions for those without housing, but there’s a need for a more comprehensive long-term plan for those who find themselves in a homeless situation, Hernandez said. For those veterans experiencing chronic problems temporary help only goes so far, Hernandez said.

“It’s so slow and there’s so much fighting for the dollar, I think if the focus was placed on the chronic issues that veterans have, whether it’s being able to maintain employment due to chronic mental illness or addictions … If we could maybe channel some focus on how to really work to identify, how to create stability, not just to create a temporary Band-Aid or throw money at something, but really focus at the community level at how to stabilize that segment it would make a difference,” Hernandez said.

Hernandez said he’s not surprised to hear the number of homeless people has dropped over the years for the entire homeless population as continued local programs and organizations work together to find solutions and a way to help.

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