To immediately contend with child homelessness in Fort Bend County, Judge KP George implored the commissioners court body to consider amending the American Rescue Plan Act budget within the next two weeks.

At a Feb. 7 meeting, Fulshear Mayor Aaron Groff addressed the court on behalf of several area nonprofits—including Attack Poverty, Abigail's Place and Parks Youth Ranch—that named affordable permanent housing as one of the county’s greatest needs.

“Fort Bend ISD and Lamar CISD have identified over 1,600 students in 2021-22 who were homeless,” Groff said. “Some of our numbers suggest that in Fort Bend County alone, there are as many as 6,500 kids who are at risk of being homeless at any given moment.”

Later in the meeting, George provided further detailed data from the school districts.

“In Lamar CISD alone, [there were] more than 677 homeless students in 2021-22,” George said. “In Fort Bend ISD as of Nov. 17, [there were] 803 homeless students, out of that, 193 [were] unaccompanied. How did we miss that? We [have spent] money ... [in] so many places; how did we miss the children?”

The budget adjustment was included as an item at the meeting, but commissioners agreed to table their decision until more information from the nonprofits could be presented to the court. Groff said these groups hope to have a proposal by the end of February.

Groff said the primary reason for this issue is what he called a lack of diversified housing stock with prices that render many families houseless.

In Fort Bend County, Groff said a one-bedroom apartment for rent will cost over $1,500 per month, and two-bedroom units usually exceed $1,800 per month. According to RentCafe, a national apartment listing service, the average rental price in Fort Bend County is $1,497 per month, while 92% of rates are over $1,000 per month as of February.

“Many of our families just simply cannot afford that,” Groff said.

There are 900 families receiving rental assistance through American Rescue Plan Act funds, not including those who receive assistance from nonprofits in the county, Groff said. These funds could be exhausted as early as the end of March, George later added.

The plan, he said, will provide a long-term solution for homeless residents of Fort Bend County.

“Our primary goal is [a] housing-first approach—a homeless assistance approach that prioritizes providing permanent housing to people experiencing homelessness, thus ending the homelessness and serving as a platform for which they can pursue personal goals and improve their quality of life,” Groff said.

The plan model would use two options to assist families facing homelessness. One is long-term housing through assistance and supportive services as well as brick and-mortar developments that provide rapid rehousing. The second option would include housing identification, rent, and a move-in assistance and case management service.

In addition, Groff said the nonprofits group suggests using a centralized family resource center for case management; job training; substance abuse, diversion and treatment; mental health support; and education.

This plan would serve up to 200 families and be self-sustaining, Groff said.

“It is going to be a big ask, but we know a diversionary project like this will make a meaningful difference for those [who are] facing or are on the verge of homelessness in Fort Bend County.”

The next two commissioners court meetings will be held Feb. 14 and Feb. 28.