Fort Bend County homelessness

Fort Bend County may soon consider getting into the business of helping people who are without housing in a much more concerted way.

During the February 7 meeting of Commissioners Court, there was a lengthy discussion about one item involving the use of funds from the federal HOME-American Rescue Plan Allocation Plan, which was created by a Congressional act passed and signed into law in 2021 that set aside $5 billion to address the homelessness problem nationwide.

In earlier public comments, Fulshear Mayor Aaron Groff, executive director of the nonprofit organization Abigail's Place, spoke on behalf of that organization and several other area nonprofits: Attack Poverty!, the George Foundation, Parks Youth Ranch, and the Henderson-Wessendorff Foundation.

Those organizations, which all do work involving low- and moderate-income people, are working on putting together a formal proposal to bring before the Court in a later workshop discussion.

Groff said one of the most critical issues facing the county is the lack of "diversified housing stock" - affordable places that working families can either rent or own. That is contributing to more homelessness in the county, with Fort Bend ISD and Lamar CISD reporting a combined 1,600 students without permanent housing in the 2021-2022 school year, he said.

The proposal would include providing both immediate and long-term assistance, as well as the creation of a family service center that would offer wrap-around services that would help people get on the path toward long-term stability.

Rental assistance that was put in place during the early phase of the pandemic may be ending at the end of March, Groff noted, which will exacerbate the problem.

"In order to address these needs, we need to get to the root of the problem," he said.

When the actual item came up on the agenda, Precinct 3 Commissioner Andy Meyers noted that there had been no information on it in the meeting materials.

County Judge KP George said that the item was only for discussion purposes, with no action to be taken on it. While county officials and business leaders, including himself, often tout Fort Bend's wealthy, he said, they sometimes miss part of the wider picture.

At times speaking emotionally, George referred to the school districts' figures. As of November, he said, Fort Bend ISD reported it had 803 students who were homeless, 193 of which were unaccompanied by parents or legal guardians.

"How did we miss that?" he asked. "How did we miss these children?"

"Knowing about it, it's time that we begin to address it," George said.

With little other discussion, the item was tabled until it can be addressed in a workshop, expected in the next couple of weeks.

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