Texas Homeless Network

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Navigating Challenges Together: A Personalized Roadmap for Rural Texas to End Homelessness

Navigating Challenges Together: A Personalized Roadmap for Rural Texas to End Homelessness

By: Jim Ward


In the vast landscapes and tight-knit communities of rural Texas, the journey to end homelessness is both a shared commitment and a distinct challenge. Unlike in larger cities, rural areas face unique obstacles that require tailored solutions. This guide recognizes these differences and offers a roadmap for individuals, community groups, and activists to address rural homelessness collaboratively.

Embracing Our Unique Challenges

Recognizing and embracing that the majority of the catalysts that people lose their housing are circumstantial and not character-based, is critical to understanding the role that systemic safety nets must play in preventing people from experiencing homelessness. And while it is true that sometimes people make choices that lead to homelessness, we all deserve an opportunity to have safe, affordable, permanent housing.

Actionable Ideas:

      1. Increase Awareness and Education:
          • Launch educational campaigns to combat the stigma associated with homelessness. Use testimonials, local stories, and data to change the narrative around homelessness, emphasizing that it is often the result of circumstances beyond an individual’s control.
      2. Enhance Local Service Access:
          • Work to expand the availability of services in rural areas by creating mobile service units or pop-up clinics that can travel to different parts of the region, providing essential services like healthcare, job counseling, and legal aid.
      3. Improve Transportation Solutions:
          • Develop transportation programs specifically aimed at helping residents in rural areas access services. This could include volunteer-driven transport services, expand access via local Rural Transportation Districts, or partnerships with rideshare companies.
      4. Build Local Partnerships for Housing
          • Partner with local businesses, non-profits, and government agencies to develop affordable housing solutions. This could include converting unused buildings into housing, offering incentives for developers to build low-cost housing, or establishing community land trusts.
      5. Implement Preventative Programs:
          • Focus on preventative measures by supporting programs that address some of the causes of homelessness, such as mental health support, addiction treatment, and financial literacy classes.
      6. Develop Tailored Support Programs:
          • Recognize the specific needs of different demographic groups within the homeless population, such as veterans, elderly individuals, or families with children, and develop support programs that are tailored to their specific challenges.

Creating Community Bonds

The interconnectedness of rural communities means that collective efforts can have a profound impact on the lives of those experiencing homelessness. With that being said, building unity in our close-knit communities is easier said than done. Now more than ever our communities are divided and it’s essential to recognize that not everyone may readily engage. Some may be hesitant due to existing divides in the community, fear of change, or exacerbation of long-standing unresolved differences between neighbors. Patience, active listening, and open dialogue are key in overcoming these initial hurdles and meaningful coalition building.

Actionable Ideas:

      1. Establish a Community Steering Committee:
          • Form a committee comprising diverse community members who represent different sectors, such as local government, non-profits, faith groups, business leaders, and residents, including those who have experienced homelessness. This committee can guide the initiative, ensuring inclusivity and representation. It is key that this group work with, not supplant existing groups working to end homelessness.  Perhaps this group exists as a function of a Local Homeless Coalition or is the foundation for a fledgling coalition.
      2. Conduct Community Listening Sessions:
          • Organize multiple listening sessions across the community to hear from all stakeholders. Make these sessions accessible by holding them at different times and locations. Emphasize the importance of active listening and create a safe space where everyone can voice their concerns and suggestions without judgment.
      3. Launch a Public Awareness Campaign:
          • Develop a campaign to educate the community about homelessness, its causes, and its impacts on individuals and the community. Use local media, social media, and public events to spread messages that foster empathy and understanding. Highlight stories of individuals who have experienced homelessness and have successfully reintegrated into the community.
      4. Create Joint Community Projects:
          • Initiate public-private partnerships such as community projects that require collaboration, like community gardens, public art projects, or renovations of local shelters. These projects can help bring people together and create a shared sense of purpose and achievement.


Advocacy Strategies Tailored to You

Acknowledging the limited access to services, transportation barriers, and the weight of homelessness stigma in our rural communities is the first step. 

“It’s really easy to say ‘those people’ instead of realizing that they are like me,” John Meier said in this Tribune article. “A lot of times our politicians and community leaders aren’t really engaged with the people that need these services.”

The majority of the catalyzing events that cause people to lose their housing are circumstantial, underscoring the critical need to address the role that systemic safety nets must play in preventing people from experiencing homelessness. We must work diligently to create opportunities for all our neighbors to have safe, affordable, permanent housing.

And while all Texans deserve access to services and housing, our rural areas often face the most barriers by having the least resources available. Unlike urban areas with more centralized systems, rural regions often face insufficient infrastructure to support homelessness prevention and assistance programs. These challenges necessitate creative solutions and a deep understanding of our local context to be effectively addressed.

Actionable Ideas:

      1. Build Data-Driven Cases:
          • Gather local data to demonstrate the presence and impact of homelessness in rural communities. Use statistics, trends, and personal stories to provide a comprehensive view that challenges misconceptions about homelessness being exclusively an urban issue.
      2. Highlight Economic and Community Benefits:
          • Develop clear messages that outline the economic advantages of addressing homelessness, such as reduced healthcare costs, increased employment, and improved public safety. Emphasize the benefits to community cohesion and overall well-being.
      3. Utilize Local Media:
          • Partner with local newspapers, radio stations, and social media influencers to spread awareness. Publish op-eds, participate in interviews, or feature success stories that can influence public opinion and policymaker perspectives. Tailor messages to resonate with rural values and highlight local examples of successful interventions.
      4. Engage with Local Leaders Directly:
          • Organize meetings with mayors, county judges, county commissioners and other influential figures. Prepare to confront denial or ignorance with facts and compassionate arguments. Present testimonials and case studies from similar rural areas that have successfully tackled homelessness
      5. Form Broad Coalitions:
          • Build coalitions that include a wide range of stakeholders such as faith groups, businesses, non-profits, and civic organizations. These coalitions can amplify the advocacy efforts and provide a united front that is harder for policymakers to ignore.
      6. Leverage the Influence of Faith-Based and Secular Organizations:
          • Encourage leaders from interfaith groups and secular organizations to speak out about homelessness. Their endorsement can sway public opinion and influence local officials, especially in communities where these groups hold significant sway.
      7. Advocate for Specific Policy Changes:
          • Identify key policies that can make a significant difference in rural homelessness and campaign for these changes. This could include zoning laws to allow for affordable housing, increased funding for rural health services, or transportation initiatives.
      8. Develop a Narrative of Shared Responsibility:
          • Craft a narrative that emphasizes shared community responsibility for preventing and addressing homelessness. Highlight how community well-being is interconnected and how helping the most marginalized neighbors benefits everyone.

A Seat at the Decision-Making Table

Actively participating in local democracy will encounter resistance or skepticism. Convincing elected officials to prioritize homelessness initiatives may take time, persistence, and the ability to showcase the tangible benefits for the community (or comparable rural communities). By engaging with local policymakers and advocating for the needs of those experiencing homelessness, we can ensure that rural voices are heard in decision-making processes. Clearly defined and consistent inclusion of decision-makers can add up over time. It is unlikely that a space will open up, so bring a chair.

Actionable Ideas:

      1. Participate in Homelessness Awareness Day:
          • Each legislative session, Texas Homeless Network brings advocates from around the state to educate lawmakers. Join us in Austin, arrange meetings with elected officials, and discuss homelessness in your area. This is a powerful way to send a message to your legislator during a statewide day of action.
      2. Establish or Strengthen Local Homeless Coalitions:
          • Join an existing local homeless coalition or help to create one if it doesn’t exist. Use this coalition to unify voices from different sectors like non-profits, faith groups, business communities, and people who have experienced homelessness. This coalition can serve as a powerful advocacy group for policy change.
      3. Organize or Participate in Point-in-Time Counts:
          • Coordinate or support annual Point-in-Time counts to collect data on the rate of homelessness in your area. Invite local leaders to participate in these counts to increase their awareness and understanding of the issue. Use the data gathered to inform policy and funding decisions.
      4. Engage with Local Government Meetings:
          • Regularly attend city council and county meetings. Request opportunities to speak on the agenda about homelessness issues. Prepare to provide insightful comments and data that support the need for dedicated homelessness initiatives.
      5. Create Advocacy Campaigns:
          • Launch campaigns that mobilize community members to contact their representatives about specific homelessness issues or legislation. Provide templates for letters, emails, or social media posts that make it easy for individuals to participate.

Unifying Our Resources

Collaborating with local organizations might be challenging due to limited resources or pre-existing organizational differences. However, by pooling resources, expertise, and networks, we can amplify our impact and ensure that support services are accessible to those in need. 

Establishing common ground, fostering a spirit of cooperation, and aligning shared goals will be essential for effective collaboration, it has the added benefit of making communities more competitive if and when federal or state resources are sought out.

Actionable Ideas:

      1. Create a Resource Inventory:
          • Develop a comprehensive inventory of available resources in the community. This should include physical resources, funding, expertise, and any other assets that can be leveraged to address homelessness. This inventory will help identify gaps and opportunities for collaboration.
      2. Establish Formal Partnerships:
          1. Creating collaborative relationships on the state and local level opens opportunities to learn new ways of thinking, creating expanded resources for your community, and building connections to other providers for a stronger response to homelessness. Join Texas Homeless Network as an agency member today to connect with agencies across the state and receive ongoing educational and networking opportunities. Locally, form intentional partnerships through Memorandums of Understanding (MOUs) or partnership agreements. These documents can outline the roles, responsibilities, and contributions of each partner, ensuring clarity and accountability.
      3. Joint Funding Applications:
          • Collaborate on grant applications to federal, state, and private funding sources. Joint applications can be more competitive by demonstrating a unified approach and pooling resources for a larger impact.
      4. Coordinate Service Delivery:
          • Develop a coordinated system for delivering services to individuals experiencing homelessness. This could include shared intake systems, referral processes, and data tracking to ensure services are not duplicated and are reaching those in need efficiently.
      5. Regular Collaboration Meetings:
          • Establish regular meetings or forums where all stakeholders can come together to discuss progress, share data, and adjust strategies as needed. This keeps everyone aligned and informed.
      6. Celebrate Successes Together:
          • Publicly celebrate milestones and successes achieved through collaborative efforts. Recognizing achievements not only boosts morale but also demonstrates the effectiveness of joint work to the broader community and funders.


This roadmap acknowledges the unique challenges rural Texas faces in addressing homelessness and provides a framework for collective action, it is far from a comprehensive guide to building a thriving community, but by embracing rural identities, fostering community bonds, advocating for change, sharing our stories, and unifying our resources, we can create lasting solutions that address the needs of our neighbors experiencing housing instability. Together, we navigate the complexities, turn challenges into opportunities, and build a future where everyone has a place to call home.

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Navigating Challenges Together: A Personalized Roadmap for Rural Texas to End Homelessness
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