Nonprofit conference aims to end homelessness in Highland Lakes
STAFF WRITER JENNIFER FIERRO
MARBLE FALLS — Homelessness exists is the Highland Lakes. People are sleeping in parks or cars, bunking with family or friends, or staying in other places.
“It’s horrible,” said Bessie Jackson, a senior adviser for the AARP program who works in the T.Q. Brown Community Center. “You have people sleeping on folks’ couches, people sleeping in cars with children. You can’t stay in Johnson Park, so they’re sleeping behind department stores.”
In an effort to end homelessness, Jackson is organizing the Highland Lakes Nonprofit Conference for leaders of area nonprofits. The conference is 11 a.m.-1 p.m. Friday, Sept. 8, at the Marble Falls Church of Christ, 711 Broadway.
Jackson has targeted 150 nonprofits in Llano, Mason, Blanco, Burnet, and Gillespie counties to ask attendees “what can you bring to the table?”
“We’re going to break down the needs into pieces to come up with solutions,” she said. “The main thing is finding a place so people don’t have to sleep outdoors or in the bushes.”
The homeless can be seen at The Helping Center of Marble Falls getting groceries or Mission Marble Falls eating a free hot meal.
How does Jackson know of the urgency? Because she and the staff of the T.Q. Brown Community Center have people calling or walking in the door asking for a place to stay. And they usually arrive without identification such as driver’s licenses, birth certificates, and other vital information that’s been lost.
Not having that data makes it more difficult to get a job, Jackson added.
She recalled helping a woman on Christmas day who planned to walk to Lubbock because she didn’t have money or a vehicle. Jackson, who leads Elves for the Elderly that gives gift bags filled with blankets and toiletries, had items leftover, so she gave some to the woman. But because there was no homeless shelter, the woman had to find her own sleep accommodations.
“Some nonprofits pay for a two- or three-night stay in a motel,” Jackson said. “Let’s take all those entities and pool our resources together.”
The biggest need is either land to build a homeless shelter or money to purchase an existing facility such as a motel that has closed.
“The whole essence: To have a homeless shelter, you have to have (nonprofit leaders) take part,” Jackson said. “Having tiny houses or emergency housing means police can take you out and you spend the night and then go the next day.”
She emphasized the housing is short-term; it isn’t meant to give an individual or family a permanent place to live.
Eventually, however, her hope is to create something similar to the Haven for Hope campus in San Antonio, which helps homeless single men and women. The 22-acre campus has buildings for men, women, and families, job training, residential facilities, education, and coordination of partners’ services. The San Antonio Food Bank provides meals and an opportunity for individuals to earn certification in culinary arts. Other services include vision, dental, childhood education and afterschool care, and medical services.
Adults in need must submit to searches and drug and alcohol analysis when requested. Jackson said a shelter in the Highland Lakes will have similar standards.
“You need to have a heart of love and then have some guts, so if you violate a rule, you got to go,” she said. “We can’t give a handout; we have to give them a hand up.”
Jackson believes a charitable individual or family will hear of her project and will feel compelled to help eliminate homelessness in the Highland Lakes.
“We are a caring community,” she said. “We give clothes and food but no place to put them. Let’s come together and see what we can do.”
To register or for more information, contact Jackson at email@example.com or (830) 693-0700.