More than 40 Texas homeless service providers participated in the third Homelessness Awareness Day at the state legislature in Austin on April 2, an event that continues to grow each biennium. The Texas Homeless Network (THN), an NLIHC State Coalition Partner, coordinates Homelessness Awareness Day, an effort to encourage more direct advocacy by organizations throughout the state.
This year’s advocacy event featured visits with elected officials from Austin, Corpus Christi, Dallas, Denton, Fort Worth, Houston, Tyler, Victoria, and Waco. The meetings covered a broad range of issues, but the primary policy initiative discussed was Medicaid expansion. Texas rejected expansion of Medicaid through the Affordable Care Act. More than 24% of Texans were uninsured in 2014. For the seventh consecutive year, Texas had the highest uninsured rate in the country. Expansion of Medicaid would have allowed Texas to direct state funds to other programs as the federal government covered a large portion of health care costs. House Bill 818, which advocates endorse, proposes an alternative, Texas-specific plan that would still expand health coverage to formerly uninsured populations. The bill would establish a state-based healthcare exchange website that would be used a substitute for the federal healthcare.gov website.
THN advocates also sought defeat of bills that would prevent localities from banning rental housing discrimination on the basis of source of income. Senate Bill 267 and House Bill 2909 would preempt local ordinances intended to prohibit landlords from refusing to rent to tenants who are recipients of federal housing subsidies. Those bills include as sources of income programs such as Housing Choice Vouchers (Section 8) and Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing (VASH) vouchers. The statewide preemption bills are in response to the City of Austin adding “Source of Income” as a protected class under its local Housing Discrimination Ordinance. Senate Bill 267 has an exemption that would allow Austin to maintain its ordinance, but would prevent future, similar ordinances elsewhere in the state. Advocates working against these bills are concerned about the broader precedent that might be set concerning local autonomy to regulate the rental housing market.
Advocates also sought support for programs giving homeless veterans access to healthcare, housing, and economic supports; funding for the Texas Homeless Housing and Services Program (HHSP), which is a crucial source of revenue for homeless service agencies; and increased funding for housing and other opportunities for unaccompanied youth.
Homelessness Awareness Day occurred at the end of the “Supportive Housing = Healthcare” conference conducted in partnership with the Corporation for Supportive Housing. Attendees explored methods of providing housing integrated with healthcare and other community services. The sessions emphasized the stability and cost-efficiency of permanent supportive housing and other housing options. The conference established an advocacy framework for Homelessness Awareness Day participants. THN also held a policy briefing to present talking points and data for use during lobby visits.
“We are encouraged by the turnout for this year’s Homelessness Awareness Day,” said Ken Martin, Executive Director at THN. “We got some positive feedback on a lot of our issues, and we feel strongly that these strategic relationships will bring positive results on our agenda.”
For more information, contact Jennifer Paulsen, Director of Development and Training, Texas Homeless Network at firstname.lastname@example.org.