TYLER — The task force launched by Mayor Bass to take a close look at homelessness in the City of Tyler presented a report of their findings to the Tyler City Council on Jan. 25, 2012. The report calls for a 10 point plan for moving forward to end homelessness in Tyler.
1. Establish an ongoing Homeless Roundtable that serves as the local continuum of care organization, to implement these recommendations and plans that are developed to end homelessness in Tyler. The Roundtable will be chaired by an appointee of the Mayor and a City staff liaison will be appointed by the City Manager.
2. Undertake the development of a local continuum of care plan to serve as the community’s five- and ten-year plans to end homelessness for veterans and the general population.
3. Examine client discharging practices for institutions – including, foster care, jail/prison and health facilities—and develop interventions to provide transitional support.
4. Support the opening of a Day Resource Room to provide the homeless with services such as showers, lockers, haircuts, phone messages, etc. (such as Gateway to Hope).
5. Support the efforts of groups like Cornerstone Assistance Network, and others, to provide support and casework/referrals to services for individuals dealing with homelessness—assisting them with gaining independence and self-sufficiency.
6. Implement enhanced (or more integrated) software to better track services related to the homeless. Use this data to better identify subgroups and higher-risk populations in this community.
7. Develop enhanced access for behavioral health/mental services.
8. Seek funding from all available sources to provide for gaps in services and to end homelessness (Federal, State, and private foundations, including, but not limited to, HUD and the VA).
9. Support efforts of 211 to update resource database.
10. Support the efforts of faith-based organizations and non-profits to combat homelessness in the community.
The report addressed four primary goals the task force was charged with:
I. Establishing a shared definition of homelessness among members of the Task Force.
II. Identifying the extent of homelessness in the Tyler area.
III. Determining the needs of the homeless that are currently unmet by the providers in the area.
IV. Proposing goals and strategies that the community can pursue that will close the gap between services currently available and those that are still needed to prevent homelessness.
“Arriving on a shared definition of homelessness was an important first step for the group,” said Councilmember Martin Heines, who also chaired the task force. “Some think of homelessness as just those people who actually are sleeping without shelter. However, other definitions include people who are living in shelters or transitional housing.”
Ultimately the group did arrive upon a shared definition of: An individual who lacks fixed, regular, and adequate nighttime residence; and an individual who has a primary nighttime residence that is a supervised shelter designed to provide temporary living accommodations; an institution that provides a temporary residence for individuals intended to be institutionalized; or a place not designed for, or ordinarily used as, a regular sleeping accommodation for human beings.
The group then took a close look at the number of homeless in Tyler.
“Defining the number of homeless in a community is difficult,” explained Heines. “The number fluctuates constantly and it is challenging to know where individuals are staying to get an accurate count.”
Several sources of data were assessed including the 2011 Point-In-Time Study conducted by the Texas Homeless Network with the assistance of the Smith County Coalition for the Homeless. The “known location” methodology was used by volunteers to survey persons found at sites identified by the community as places where those who are homeless are known to congregate. The report indicated that up to 243 people -192 adults and 51 children - were homeless in the Tyler area. The report is nearly a year old; however, a new survey will be conducted on Jan. 26, 2012. The Tyler Police Department was able to contribute counts of homeless that actually are sleeping outdoors. They estimate that there are from 12 to 30 individuals that are currently living in places not meant for human habitation. The Tyler Independent School District also collects data on the number of students who self-identify as homeless. Currently there are 96 children identified. It is thought that some of these children are in shelters, some staying with friends or family, some are sleeping in the homes of non-family members, some sleeping in cars and some staying at motels.
A thorough assessment of what services are currently offered in Tyler was also conducted by the group. It was found that Tyler has the following services:
Salvation Army has a normal capacity of 200 (500 emergency) but only houses an average of 100 people per night;
At least 24 locations provide meals and groceries to those in need;
There are seven locations for emergency shelter and transitional housing;
There are five long term affordable housing programs;
There are nine tax credit developments in Tyler; and,
There are other programs that provide clothes, rent, utilities, education services, medical services, referrals, etc.
From the information gathered by the group, gaps in services were identified. They include: Transitional Housing, Mental Health Services, Tracking Mechanism for Homeless Receiving Services, Post Hospital Services Including Housing Needs, Casework/Social Worker Connection (Coordination of Services), Housing for Those With Criminal Records and Additional Affordable Housing Opportunities.
“I am very pleased with the progress the task force made toward defining where we need to go as a community to end homelessness,” said Mayor Barbara Bass. “I believe we have a very clear path on what steps we need to take in the next several months. I also would like to thank all of the stakeholders who participated for their tremendous efforts to bring this report to us today.”