By Amira Van Leeuwen
HAYS COUNTY — The Hays County Homeless Coalition for the Homeless hosted a “Lunch and Learn” titled “From Homeless to Home” on Thursday, Oct. 27, from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the San Marcos Public Library.
Panelists Melissa Rodriguez, chief executive officer of Hays Caldwell Women’s Center (HCWC), Lana Wagner, San Marcos Housing Authority’s executive director and Sheila Morgan, president/founder of Eden Village of San Marcos, spoke about the housing issues afflicting the Hays County community.
The panel was moderated by Jen Beardsley, the Local Homeless Coalition (LHC) coordinator from the Texas Homeless Network. Beardsley works to support and help build collaborative groups working to address homelessness in their communities across Texas.
Rodriguez emphasized that homelessness is not a one-size-fits-all issue. She also informed attendees about the resources the HCWC offers, like Marla’s Place, which is a transitional housing apartment complex along with an emergency shelter.
But she also acknowledged that some families might not be ready to seek help.
“We’ve got families that come in and walk right out. They’re just not ready, and that’s okay,” Rodriguez said.
Wagner spoke about the San Marcos Housing Authority, which aims to provide safe and affordable housing for low and moderate-income families.
Wagner said they had requested Section 8 vouchers, but there is a waiting list. The Section 8 voucher program, also called The Housing Choice, is the federal government’s major program for assisting very low-income families, the elderly and the disabled to afford safe, sanitary housing in the private market. Applications for Section 8 will reopen within the next six months to a year.
Rebecca Lynn Reyes, San Marcos Housing Authority’s Section 8 department office manager, said they only have 35 emergency vouchers at this time. Currently, there are 22 families that have been housed.
“We have to wait for paperwork and the landlords,” Reyes said. “June rents went up above our payment standards, so we did go ahead and change it effective for Dec. 1.”
Reyes added that several people lost vouchers because landlords were unable to lower the rents.
Rather than just speaking, Morgan gave a slide presentation on her nonprofit organization called Eden Village, a place where no San Marcos resident has to sleep outside. Eden Village focuses on those who are chronically homeless, individuals with a disabling condition that have been homeless for over one year. Qualifications for living at Eden Village are when someone is considered chronically homeless, has a disabling condition (mental or physical), is ready to be a good neighbor and has the ability to pay $300-$325 a month.
“We are actively looking for land,” Morgan said.
Eden Village will be between six and 10 acres for 20-50 tiny homes, about 399 square feet each. Morgan said each neighborhood would be enclosed by a gated entrance. Eden Village will also have a community center and community garden to grow food and enhance the area. There will be a village store and a memorial for unclaimed, deceased homeless persons.
The presentation also highlighted that Eden Village will provide space for supportive services like health care, case management and support groups.
The panelists also responded to various questions, one of which was asking what housing or housing resources the county currently needs. Wagner thought the county needed low-income housing and Rodriguez thought there needed to be more long-term affordable housing.
“Wages aren’t keeping up with the cost of living so that just creates that additional barrier,” Rodriguez said.
Morgan thought the county needed more permanent, affordable housing.
Morgan was also asked how Eden Village compared to the Community First Village in Austin.
“One of the main differences is our tiny homes will have their own restrooms,” Morgan responded.
For more information, visit https://www.facebook.com/HomelessCoalitionofHays/.