By Julia Vergara | Staff Writer
Homelessness is an issue all across the U.S. and the City of Waco is no exception. However, many Waco organizations and programs have been created to offer help to the local individuals and families who find themselves without a place to call their own.
“Having a home is just merely a basic need — basic needs have to be met before we can work to address any other issues,” said Melinda Bonds, chairman of the Heart of Texas Homeless Coalition.
The HOT Homeless Coalition is a nonprofit organization created in Waco to provide support for the local homeless community. Bonds said the organization’s purpose is to work toward ending homelessness and that they do this in a variety of ways.
HOT Homeless Coalition evaluates the gaps and needs in community resources and then works to expand those resources, Bonds said. For example, the organization submits a collaborative grant application annually to U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development in order to provide more housing for the homeless. Last year, they were able to receive $988,312 from Housing and Urban Development and this year, they submitted a grant application for over a million dollars.
“I think that because our community in Waco is so tight-knit, most of our agencies work so well together and we’re aware of who our homeless individuals and families are,” Bonds said.
Mission Waco is another local organization that offers help to the homeless community in a number of ways.
With the mission of providing Christian-based, holistic and relationship-based programs to empower the poor and marginalized, Mission Waco organizes a “Walk for the Homeless” every September. The event is followed by a Church Under the Bridge worship service under I-35.
While once a part of Mission Waco, where it served as a Bible study for several homeless individuals living under the I-35 bridge, Church Under the Bridge decided to separate as a fully-functioning church in 1999, according to Mission Waco’s website. Today, one of Church Under the Bridge’s nine core values is to provide acceptance and easy access to individuals that are often excluded from mainstream churches and they still hold service under the I-35 bridge. The church also helps provide basic needs such as hot meals and used clothing.
In addition to organizing a Walk for the Homeless, Mission Waco also operates the chronic homeless shelter My Brother’s Keeper, located at 1217 Mary Ave.
Another resource offered to homeless individuals is Compassion Ministries. According to executive director Jill McCall, they are currently the only transitional housing facility for homeless families in the Central Texas area.
Compassion Ministries provides intensive care management, medical services, dental services, transportation, childcare, counseling and any sort of employment need that an individual has.
While Compassion Ministries lost their federal funding due to the federal government pulling away from transition housing, McCall said they are working diligently to build their endowment and they are hopeful they will not have to decrease or eliminate the range of services they provide.
McCall said the Compassion Ministries program is unbelievable and the services they offer cannot usually be found in many other places.
“I feel that Waco –– for the size that it is, does a good job of meeting the needs of homeless individuals,” McCall said.
According to Bonds, the requirements to say you have ended homelessness in your community are based on how quickly the community is able to respond to the needs of a homeless person.
“In our community, all of the agency’s representatives know each other well enough to pick up the phone when we have a need and respond to that need,” Bonds said.
Bonds said she believes Waco has a leg up on other communities in helping homeless individuals and that through coordinated entry, the community will get even better at responding to their needs.
Bonds also said that Waco’s organizations understand that homelessness is situational and occurs for many reasons.
“Lack of affordable housing is the biggest reason—One of the main reasons,” Bonds said. “Because the person may be making minimum wage but has a difficult time affording a house, an apartment for a family of four or more.”
She believes that because Waco’s organizations are so willing to understand circumstances, homeless individuals are much more willing to accept resources from them.