Denton at risk of losing Emergency Solutions Grant for homeless citizens

Denton at risk of losing Emergency Solutions Grant for homeless citizens

Denton  at risk of losing Emergency Solutions Grant for homeless citizens
October 04
00:10 2018

At the United Way community meeting on Sept. 8, Denton Mayor Chris Watts told the community that Denton County is at risk of losing an Emergency Solutions Grant that is assisting the county’s homelessness problem.

The Emergency Solutions Grant (ESG) is a competitive Texas administered grant program created to help solve homelessness and focuses on providing street outreach, emergency shelter, homelessness prevention and rapid re-housing. The funds have assisted between 1,200 and 1,500 individuals annually over the past several years, according to Watts’ public affair liaison Sarah Kuechler.

“The grant’s performance expectations are based on the service provider’s ability to assist someone experiencing homelessness to secure stable, permanent housing,” Kuechler said. “If those expectations of performance cannot be met then grant funds may not be awarded or reduced in the future.”

Denton County received the ESG every year from 2012 to 2016. However, in 2016, Denton County was not awarded the grant because not enough clients moved into permanent housing, not enough of the clients who increased their income maintained permanent housing and not enough funds were committed to permanent housing solutions.

In 2017, Courtney Cross, Director of Homelessness Initiatives for the United Way of Denton County, told the Daily Denton County lost the $600,000 grant because “they set a goal to house a specific number of people but didn’t reach it.”

While the effects could have been devastating, the county came together to provide a little more than half of what the grant distributes. Still, some nonprofit agencies felt the impact of losing the grant, Cross said.

“Quite a few agencies had to cut staff, as well as cut back on the number of people that they could help,” Cross said. “Agencies had to come together strategically to figure out how to regain the grant.”

In order to regain the grant, the Denton County Homelessness Leadership Team (DCHLT) lowered the expected number of people they committed to housing.

After submitting the application the county regained the two-year grant, receiving $600,000 for 2017-18 and another $600,000 for 2018-19. Despite lowering the goal, the expected metrics are still lower than expectations.

More availability and accessibility are needed in the county. Without development in both areas it will continue to be difficult to create housing opportunities for the homeless, as well as receiving the grant in the future.

“In some cases, even when funding for assistance is available, there is not a rental unit open,” Kuechler said. “Housing that is available to the population of people who are experiencing homelessness — who more often than the general population have higher barriers that limit access to housing — is a key component of any solution to homelessness.”

Watts said he believes the way to save the grant, as well as to place more people in homes, is building more affordable housing. During the meeting, he called on investment and rental property owners to help solve this problem.

“We know what we’re supposed to do, that [making more space available] is our goal, and the only way we can do that is place people in homes,” Watts told the crowd at the community meeting.

Since losing the grant there has been a community-wide sense of urgency to find housing solutions. Many agencies, like United Way, are attempting to fix the accessibility and availability issues.

“We’re constantly working through these obstacles,” Cross explained. “United Way is currently looking to hire a housing navigator who will act as a liaison between the property owners and the non-profits.”

With 27.8 percent of people’s reasoning for homelessness being due to an inability to pay rent and 38 percent caused by unemployment, according to the 2018 Pit Count Survey, Keuchler said affordable housing is beneficial in relieving the cost burden, as well as making it more likely to weather through a crisis without becoming homeless.

“Affordable housing is an important piece of the housing assistance puzzle, but most effective in preventing homelessness in the first place,” Kuechler said.

Featured Image: Our Daily Bread soup kitchen feeds an average of 250 people a day, five days a week. It is one of few opportunities for Denton’s homeless to receive a hot meal. File

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Xavier Spurlock

Xavier Spurlock

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