HOME Center provides hands-on aid for homeless in San Marcos

H.O.M.E. Center logo.

The HOME Center logo as it appears on the Facebook page. Photo credit: Courtesy of Hannah Durrance

Laura Figi

Not a single one of her fellow classmates stopped to talk when Hannah Durrance stood on The Quad holding a sign that read, ‘I’m a single mother. I work 62 hours per week. I’m a full-time college student. I have a 3.2 GPA and I am homeless.’

Instead, they called campus police.

Durrance explained to the police that she was trying to raise awareness. The police checked her school ID, told her she was not allowed to take donations and left along with all the familiar classmates in sight.

When she went to class, the students did not acknowledge her. It was like the class had never seen her before.

“People did not look at me,” Durrance said. “(That) defines you as being less-than. It defines you as being not good enough and it makes you feel invisible.”

Durrance has been trying to raise awareness about homelessness for years and was a homeless single mother of four for seven years. May 2019, a city council member told her if she had the drive, she should address the issue herself.

HOME Center of Central Texas was co-founded by Durrance and Tegan Debrock, sophomore political science major, just a month later and now it works on the four ideas that make up the name: Homeless, Outreach, Mitigation and Emergency.

HOME Center’s goal is to alleviate strain on the homeless population by connecting people to various resources, helping them find temporary places to stay, helping them find jobs, providing transportation and raising awareness for the situation in nearby communities.

“We realized there is no coordination among the service organizations here,” Debrock said. “We know that we are filling a gap so I think we’re heading in the right direction.”

Durrance also works as an instructional assistant in the history department at Texas State.

“After what I’d been through, I felt like I needed to use my experiences in a different way,” Durrance said. “I started talking about forming HOME Center and I reapplied to Texas State grad school.”

The program is the first Local Homeless Coalition in Hays County, operating under the Texas Homeless Network. Both organizations are working together to hold the first Point in Time count, where volunteers assess the number and the demographics of the homeless population in the county.

The count will take place Jan. 23, a nationally chosen date, and volunteers will count everyone in the county. HOME Center is still looking for volunteers.

The PIT count numbers can be used by several organizations and allows those organizations to collaborate with the city and access additional grants and services. With the PIT count data, the San Marcos Housing Authority could apply for up to 11 additional housing projects for homeless veterans.

Volunteers will complete a short training online or in person and can find information on the Facebook page.

San Marcos City Council Place 5 member Joca Marquez said she is pushing for homelessness to become one of the city’s “strategic initiatives,” which would also help it secure more funding.

“I’m excited about the possibility of (HOME Center) growing and expanding and having the impact that it should have,” Marquez said.

Marquez said with all the problems San Marcos has with flooding, which can displace people from their homes, it is important to be responsive to the needs in a community.

“(HOME Center) came as a need to do something more,” Marquez said.

Oftentimes, volunteers will go out of their way to help someone in need. Durrance said sometimes they use their own personal resources to help and mentioned letting people use the company laptop to apply for jobs.

“We try to tailor-make our program for the individual’s needs,” Durrance said.

To qualify for aid, individuals reach out to the program via Facebook, Instagram or Twitter, and their needs are evaluated on a case-by-case basis.

Durrance said homelessness is very often overlooked in the community, despite San Marcos’ classification as an impoverished area. SMCISD qualifies for providing free breakfast and lunches to its’ students.

Durrance said many children experience trauma from dealing with homelessness or unstable situations, which makes attending school very difficult on top of having low resources.

“Schools need to be aware of this and adapt to the fact that anywhere between 40 and 60% of our population are experiencing poverty,” Durrance said.

HOME Center will also host a backpack drive Jan. 23 from 1-6 p.m. at St. Vincent de Paul Catholic Church at 624 E Hopkins St.

Debrock grew up in San Marcos and said even though San Marcos is one of the fastest-growing cities in Texas, there is no concrete support for the homeless population.

“That growth isn’t taking into account people who aren’t privileged financially,” Debrock said. “Developers say they’re offering a project that is affordable housing, but really it’s just slightly below the average cost of an apartment. People aren’t being looked at for they can actually, practically pay for with their circumstances.”

Durrance said even though around 70% of the homeless population suffers from a disability, either physical or mental, and many are single mothers, being homeless is often written off as a personal failure.

“There are a lot of reasons for homelessness—it’s not limited to one or two factors and it’s certainly not limited to a person’s moral failures,” Durrance said. “It is the fact that housing costs in San Marcos have increased 40% in the past seven years.”

Durrance said she was told she should quit college and work more, despite working four jobs. She said people’s judgments place a mental obstacle in the way, which can make homeless people feel powerless.

Some nights, Durrance would come home so tired she could collapse.

“I want people to understand that it’s gut-wrenching and it’s terrifying,” Durrance said. “It causes extreme anxiety every day not knowing whether or not you’re going to make enough money to pay the motel room and whether or not you’re going to have to pack up everything and put it back in the car and sleep in the car with the children in the cold.”

Though her life is much different now, Durrance said she wants to use her experience to empower others.

“Think about how the person you’re looking at probably has not always been homeless,” Durrance said. “The person you’re looking at deserves love and respect just like anybody else. By ignoring it, by looking away, you’re defining who that person is and you’re leaving an impression on them.”

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