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Crisis Network, MFISD partnership could help homeless students

Highland Lakes Crisis Network proposes transitional housing for homeless students

The Highland Lakes Crisis Network has asked Marble Falls Independent School District to consider allowing the organization to lease 15 acres of property off of Manzano Mile between Marble Falls High School and Colt Elementary School for a transitional facility for homeless students and their families. Photo courtesy of Highland Lakes Crisis Network

Looking to alleviate student homelessness, the Highland Lakes Crisis Network proposed a partnership of sorts to Marble Falls Independent School District leaders that involves 15 acres of district land. 

The Crisis Network hopes to establish a transitional housing facility on the property, representative Bob Rogers explained to the MFISD board of trustees at its regular meeting Monday, Sept. 21. The property is between Marble Falls High School and Colt Elementary School on Manzano Mile. 

Rogers said the Crisis Network would like a long-term lease for the acreage with the ability to expand if the program warrants it. The idea is to build a facility that will help homeless families transition to more stable housing. The facility would include five cabins for families, a playground, a community center, Crisis Network office space, and a future community garden. 

Made up of about 35 Highland Lakes churches, the Crisis Network already has a number of resources and a solid volunteer base from which to draw to address student homelessness. The organization formed after the October 2018 flood, which left many people struggling to recover. It’s patterned after the Austin Disaster Network as a long-term recovery organization rather than a quick-response one.

Since the 2018 flood, the Highland Lakes Crisis Network has opened and closed 680 cases related to it and other disasters. During the COVID-19 pandemic, the organization has been instrumental in providing thousands of meals to Highland Lakes residents in need.

The facility would not address chronic homelessness but rather help families deal with unforeseen circumstances stemming from the issue.

“We’re talking about people in transition who didn’t envision being where they are,” Rogers said. “We want to holistically work with these families and make a difference in their lives. We’ve thought the process out about how we can help.”

Rogers pointed out that more than 95 MFISD students qualified as homeless in January before the pandemic hit. 

“The need we felt a year ago has been dramatically increased,” he continued. 

Only a few weeks into the new school year, district officials have not been able to take a new count of homeless students, but they believe it is still about 95.

The Crisis Network and MFISD use the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act’s definition of “homeless,” which is anyone lacking fixed, adequate housing. It includes families living in their vehicles or “camping” on another family member’s property, explained MFISD Executive Director of Instructional Services Yarda Leflet. The definition also includes students and their families living in a structure without running water or regular electric service and a student staying at a friend’s home a few nights before going to another friend’s home, added Superintendent Dr. Chris Allen.

Under the Crisis Network model, a shepherd and caseworker are assigned to each family or individual in need, Rogers said. Caseworkers help families deal with the numerous assistance agencies. Rogers pointed out that many people give up on getting assistance because of the paperwork. Shepherds develop personal relationships with Crisis Network clients, making sure their physical, emotional, and spiritual needs are met.

Rogers said the Crisis Network has a fundraising mechanism in place to raise money to build the transitional housing facility, but they need land.

MFISD owns the swath of land between the high school and elementary campus. Allen said the district cannot gift the land to the Highland Lakes Crisis Network, but a longterm lease is a possibility. 

The MFISD board directed Allen and his administration to look into working with the Crisis Network on the project. 

Rogers said the Crisis Network would like to begin serving homeless families by the end of the school year or, at least, this time next year. MFISD board of trustees President Kevin Naumann, who is also executive director of the Highland Lakes Crisis Network, recused himself from the discussion by stepping down from the dais because of a conflict of interest.