The non-profit organization San Marcos wants to close gaps in homeless assistance

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SAN MARCOS – Jay Adams taught English in South Korea for 15 years before returning to San Marcos last November. He came back intending to get a copy of his degree from Texas State University to teach English in Cambodia.

But the 67-year-old said that plan never came to fruition because it was too expensive for his $ 800 monthly retirement income. Adams, who was born in Galveston, said the little money he makes is enough to eat but not enough to live comfortably in an apartment.

He was living in a tent near Walmart in San Marcos for several months when he met Hannah Durrance, president of the nonprofit Homeless Outreach Mitigation Emergency Center, or HOME Center, in San Marcos.

The HOME Center provides people who are or are at risk of becoming homeless with the resources they need to find food, water, sleeping bags, health checkups and, more recently, motel rooms.

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According to the latest census, more than 100 people will be homeless in San Marcos on any given day.

However, Durrance said that number is likely higher since it doesn’t make up the rest of Hays County. She said a lot of people are hard to find, especially when they’re living in their vehicle or on someone’s couch.

After experiencing homelessness herself when she raised four children, one of whom was a toddler at the time, Durrance said that little information and resources were available for people who needed access to food, education, vocational training, or a place to sleep.

For this reason, she launched the HOME Center in 2019.

Durrance, who is no longer homeless, wanted to help people transition from homelessness to more stable lifestyles by offering a transitional housing program and connecting people directly to resources that best suit them.

“We always make an emergency patch, but that doesn’t help them become more sustainable in a healthy way,” said Durrance.

Transition to stability

This is where the transitional housing program comes in, which has become an important part of the HOME Center’s work, she said.

The transitional housing program temporarily accommodates people for up to 90 days or longer if necessary. Durance said they are connecting people there with the services they need – health care, application needs, ID forms – as well as a warm bed, shower and access to food.

“Once you’re not housed, it can be difficult to find resources to get you back into an apartment,” said Durrance. “But when you have someone to guide you to the resources and help you along the way, you will be more successful in trying to become stable.”

Stable accommodations make it easier for clerks and volunteers to go after people, she said, because when people live in tents, some move so often that it can be difficult to find them.

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Through donations, Durrance’s group was able to pay for motel rooms for people in the San Marcos area, but they said that number has started to grow with help from the Hays County Community Assistance Program. Your help has even made it possible for homeless people to apply for emergency help with rent and to be accommodated in hotels for up to 90 days with reference to the effects of the coronavirus pandemic.

Because the pandemic has forced the closure of libraries where people fill out applications and restricted access to other social services – such as offices that provide housing and meal vouchers; state identification; Social security services; and unemployment benefits – many people were left without funds and homeless for months.

“All of these services have been moved right from under them because of the pandemic,” Durrance said. “And this affects a whole population of people who have given up these resources.”

On Friday, more than 40 people were staying in rooms in two motels in the San Marcos area.

Jay Adams, shown in the San Marcos motel room that served him as temporary accommodation, spent 15 years teaching English in South Korea before returning to San Marcos last November and becoming homeless.

Adams, who has lived at the motel for three months, said the program allowed him to save some money so he could get back on his feet. He’s hoping to buy a motorcycle and head west to join the Bob Wells Cheap RV Living movement and grant his desire to travel and document it through photography.

Adams shares a double room with Kenley Gamble, who said the HOME Center program allowed him to take care of himself. Your room is equipped with a microwave and mini-refrigerator for storing basic groceries and perishable items.

Durrance delivers food weekly and, with the help of around 30 volunteers, provides as much help as possible with laundry and other needs.

Gamble said he has experienced recurring homelessness over the past few years, and he said his drinking made it hard to keep a stable job. But since he got sober, he has been able to get into a motel room and said he had submitted multiple applications and had at least one interview pending.

“Hannah and Jay have been so helpful since I’ve been here,” said Gamble. “I’ve been able to set goals and get a handle on my life and I’m so grateful.”

The goal, according to Durrance, is to get as many people as possible into more permanent homes. She said the organization has 35 home vouchers to supplement monthly rental payments, and it plans to make sure each and every one of them is used.

“We know that not everyone is ready for immediate housing, but that is why this transitional housing program is so important,” she said. “You can come here, get well and connect to the services you need and find a job so that you can successfully support yourself when you move into permanent home.”

Her first client has already qualified for permanent housing and volunteers were already looking for an apartment for this woman as well as looking for furniture.

Emergency response

While transitional housing is important, Durrance said her organization continues to provide road work and emergency relief, which has become more common over the past six years and largely relies on donations.

In 2015, when Hays County was hit by floods on Memorial Day weekend and later that year on Halloween, the HOME Center focused on getting people to temporary motels or shelters to wait out the storm. This has become more of a problem over the years as more and more weather events swept the area.

The need became more apparent this year after a snowfall in January and a freeze in February.

In January the organization succeeded in getting people living on campsites into hotel rooms with the help of the Salvation Army 37. Just a few weeks later, during the week-long February slump, their services would be used again to house and feed 300 people.

Durrance said the group raised more than $ 100,000 to fund these efforts, but as larger weather events become more frequent, the need for donations has increased. She said the organization is applying for grants, but private donations can go a long way.

Last week, as the rain hit central Texas, 15 people who lived in tents were rescued when the Blanco River swelled. Durrance said they are safe now, but all of their belongings have been destroyed and they now need tents, food and other supplies to rebuild.

“We’ve had so many events like this since 2015,” said Durrance. “And it’s so hard to know when that will happen.”

How to help

Donations are possible at homecentertx.org.

HOME Center president Hannah Durrance drives to a camp in San Marcos to check on its residents after Thursday's rain caused a flash flood.  The back seat of her car is filled with donated food.


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