EDITOR DANIEL CLIFTON
The reality of homelessness struck Larry Stahl one day when he and his wife, as part of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, responded to a family living in a campground east of Marble Falls along Lake Travis. The Stahls’ mission was to provide immediate assistance to the family, but Larry knew right away they were in need of much more.
“They were a couple, both had just got jobs, and they had a young son,” he recalled. “They had been basically living at the campground in their car for quite awhile.”
Through the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, the Stahls were able to put the family up in a Marble Falls hotel for a few days so the couple could at least get ready to start their new jobs.
As much as the society does to help in these situations, it can’t provide the overwhelming amount of necessary services for people without homes. In fact, among all the nonprofits and assistance organizations across the Highland Lakes, few, if any, address the long-term needs of the homeless.
Thanks to the fledgling organization Highland Lakes Haven, that’s hopefully about to change.
Larry Stahl noticed the issue of homelessness several years ago when he settled here. Instead of waiting for someone else to tackle the problem, Stahl decided to see how he and others could help. Along with himself, the Highland Lakes Haven board also includes Bessie Jackson and Kathy Nichols.
“It’s in the infancy stages right now,” Stahl said.
As it begins 2019, the organization is looking for more board members as well as community partners.
Highland Lakes Haven put down firm roots in 2018 as it developed mission and business plans, set up a nonprofit status, met with area church leaders, established a budget, and even acquired office space in the Community Resource Center in Marble Falls.
But it’s just the start of what Stahl envisions as a three-phase plan to address homelessness in the Highland Lakes.
One thing Stahl pointed out is that the face of homelessness doesn’t always look like the stereotypical person living on the streets with little to no desire to change. Throughout his years volunteering with the Society of St. Vincent de Paul and through educating himself about homelessness, he has learned that individuals or familes often lose their homes by a paycheck. Maybe they faced a medical emergency or some other unforeseen financial issue arose. It could be that the breadwinner lost his or her job.
“A lot of things could lead to a person becoming homeless,” he said. “Most people want to have a home, but once they lose it or end up homeless, it’s so hard getting it back. They face so many problems and challenges. There’s a lot of things people don’t understand about it.”
Highland Lakes Haven aims to take a three-prong approach to homelessness.
The first phase, which is where the organization is now, is to provide emergency assistance to people to take care of an immediate need. That might include getting a family or an individual into a hotel/motel for a couple of days.
Stahl describes the second phase as the transitional step.
This could be helping people find employment or temporary housing, get financial assistance, or just figure out what their next step in life is.
The third phase is for the long-term.
While some people would only need a temporary boost, others might need more extensive assistance. Stahl said Highland Lakes Haven envisions creating a community such as Mobile Loaves & Fishes’ Community First Village or San Antonio’s Haven for Hope. In these programs, a number of mini-homes and/or travel trailers are available for the homeless.
Something Stahl likes about these two programs, especially Community First Village, is the emphasis on community. Often, the residents live in a smaller section within the center where they share cooking and dining spaces, becoming part of a community.
Phase three, and possibly part of phase two, will require land and housing, but, as Stahl said, the organization is still in the beginning stages. They’ve met with city of Marble Falls officials to share the idea as well as other community leaders.
Right now, Stahl said what the organization really needs are a few more board members — he’d like seven — local partners interested in working alongside Highland Lakes Haven, and funding.
“If people are coming to us for housing, we’re just not there yet,” he said. “We can help them in other ways, but, right now, we don’t have housing. But it’s something we’re working toward.”
Stahl admitted homelessness in the Highland Lakes isn’t as visually apparent as in larger cities, but it’s here.
“It doesn’t always look like you might think,” he said. “Some of the people live in their cars, (and) they’ll park somewhere where they know they won’t get kicked out. It’s people moving from one friend’s house to another. That’s something you see a lot with teenagers or younger people. And then, there’s those staying in campgrounds around the area.
“It’s here. We just don’t always recognize it,” he added. “The next step is doing something about it.”
For more information on Highland Lakes Haven, call (325) 423-0587.