AHA policy change

 Housing Authority's policy change seeks to end Homelessness

June 4, 2018

The homeless in Abilene are getting a hand up, thanks to a policy change made by the Abilene Housing Authority.

On March 21, the housing authority adopted a “homeless preference,” moving the homeless to the top of the Housing Choice Voucher Wait List, allowing them to be served more quickly. That means that only people displaced by a FEMA declared disaster, like Hurricane Harvey that hit the Texas Gulf coast in 2017, will go before the homeless in the waiting line.

“AHA adopted the preference to be a solution and partner in ending homelessness in Abilene,” said Tim Pittman, Housing Choice Voucher manager for the Abilene Housing Authority.

In the past, the homeless were much farther down the waiting list. Coming before them were applicants/participants that had to give up their vouchers for lack of funding, elderly/disabled applicants, and applicants exiting a nursing home that needed rent assistance to be able to live on their own.

Now, only people displaced by natural disaster of such magnitude that the Federal Emergency Management Agency certifies it come before the homeless.

The West Texas Homeless Network ended its 100-Day Challenge on May 4, with excellent results. The change in the housing voucher policy should improve those numbers even more. The adoption of the “homeless preference” was exciting to those who work toward ending homelessness.

“This is extremely progressive for the state and country,” said Mary Cooksey, director of 2-1-1 A Call for Help. 

The 100-Day Challenge had two goals, to house 50 homeless people and to test the Home Again West Texas coordinated entry system in order to more easily track the homeless and serve them. The housing goal was surpassed by 14 people, with a total of 64 housed.

Those numbers also are good for taxpayers, as it costs considerably less to support a homeless neighbor with housing than to care for him or her with medical emergencies and jail stays. It costs an estimated $30,000 a year to care for one chronically homeless person, Cooksey said, when all costs are included, from emergency medical treatment to the judicial system. On average housing a homeless neighbor saves taxpayers $20,000 per individual per year.

But the main goal of getting the homeless into a home is for the betterment of that person. The “homeless preference” policy will expedite the process of caring for more homeless people more quickly. The number of Housing Choice Vouchers for Abilene remains very limited, but the Abilene Housing Authority adopted the preference in order to be a solution and partner in ending homelessness, Pittman, the Housing Choice Voucher manager, said. Community agencies provided data on the need for long-term rental assistance to help house the homeless, Pittman said, and the housing authority partnered with those community agencies in order to ensure that referred neighbors would receive case management services needed to utilize their vouchers and stay stably housed.

“It will give our community partners another tool and funding source to use in housing our homeless neighbors,” Pittman said. “Hopefully it will end homelessness in Abilene more quickly.”


Content provided by: Loretta Fulton
Content editor: Mary Cooksey,
2-1-1 Texas A Call for Help