How did you first get involved with Corpus Christi’s homeless population?
When I [Lohmeier] arrived here a little over three years ago, I was working in health care at the time as Vice President of Mission Integration with Christus Spohn. I started working with local community clergy and felt myself drawn more to what I was doing with the clergy than my role with the system. I decided to take a risk, leave the system, and really start focusing on building a Clergy Alliance to address social issues in the community, homelessness being the first to which we were drawn. It seems, with a community of this size, we should be able to resolve the issue.
What is the current population of homeless people in our region?
We have probably between 300-500 people living on the streets. That is not counting people living in shelters or transitional housing programs (like Good Samaritan, Salvation Army, Metro Ministries or Mother Teresa to name a few). Leaders of the agencies that make up the Homeless Issues Partnership estimate that we have a few hundred people experiencing chronic homelessness in Corpus Christi. There are many that have been helped through transitional housing programs to find stable housing, but there is this group of people who have not been able to benefit from those programs for a host of reasons. Our goal is to catalyze a different approach that will end homelessness and restore these people to dignity.
How does your collaboration plan to end chronic homelessness?
We researched a few different approaches other communities are using, as near as Houston and Austin, and as far as Utah and Canada. We stumbled into the housing first model. Essentially, people are ending homelessness by putting people in housing. There is a housing readiness approach that says when you are ready to stop doing self destructive things, we can move you into stable housing. Housing first takes a different approach. People who engage in self-destructive behavior as a coping method will never make it through the housing readiness model. Housing first seeks to give them dignity, give them a place to stay, and weave in services to help them make better choices and reintegrate into the community. Housing first costs less on average, because it stops the revolving door through hospitals and jails. These are the people who end up in the hospital with unmanaged chronic conditions or in jail for everything from loitering to public intoxication, which all end up being an expense to taxpayers.
How have recent restrictions on government funding affected local shelters and other homeless services organizations?
They are really trying to push people in the direction we are heading. The government is directing its funding away from supportive services and transitional housing and toward programs that get people either rapidly rehoused or into permanent supportive housing. The funding that a lot of organizations have been depending upon was restructured and must go toward something like this, not toward efforts like the Wesley Community Center providing day care services. But, everyone knows that if you don’t have daycare while trying to get a job, you are set up to fail. You can’t be comfortable working at a job while wondering about how your kids are being cared for. A lot of the things we take for granted, these are the pieces that have been cobbled together and, as a community, we need to make sure none of the essential pieces get left off because of the funding restructuring.
By when do you plan to end chronic homelessness in Corpus Christi?
We have an ambitious goal of 2019. June 20th of that year is the Feast of Corpus Christi which memorializes the 500-year anniversary of Spanish explorer Alonso Alvarez de Pineda giving a sacred name to our community. We plan to celebrate an end to chronic homelessness in this community coinciding with that anniversary.
Do your really believe this can happen?
I’m [Lohmeier] convinced that this is the way to go for those people who are chronically homeless. It is time to end homelessness and stop managing it. We will make a difference in the lives of the bulk of the 300 people we currently have struggling to survive on the street, and in the lives of those we invite into the process of helping them heal. When we are ready to claim success, this dehumanizing phenomenonthat results from the interaction of poverty, mental illness, substance abuse and general misfortune will be rare, short term and non-reoccurring.