With its multimillion dollar homes, well-manicured golf courses and vibrant business economy, The Woodlands and south Montgomery County are likely not places one would associate with a homelessness problem.
However, according to Montgomery County, homelessness in the area is increasing. A county survey reveals there has been a 30 percent increase from 2013 to 2014 in people counted as homeless in Montgomery County. According to the survey, the number of homeless individuals in the county increased from 470 in 2013 to 611 in 2014.
Among the reasons for the increase is that some people moving to the county do not find the jobs they expect to find, said Nancy Heintz, director of missions and community
outreach at First United Methodist Church in Conroe.
Heintz said people are moving to Montgomery County because they believe there are plenty of jobs in Texas. She said they also often choose to move to Montgomery County because the cost of living is cheaper than in other cities.
"The cost of living is cheaper than Houston, so we're seeing people that are coming here thinking that they'll be able to make their money go further," Heintz said.
In reality, Heintz said, those moving to the county find the availability of affordable housing is at a minimum. She said the housing prices in Montgomery County cut into their wages and create conditions for homelessness. The survey results reflect this: the second-highest reason respondents reported for homelessness is "unable to pay rent/mortgage."
"In our community, affordable housing is a challenge," Heintz said. "If you're paying more for your housing, you're not going to be balanced. We've got that in some cases—it's just very difficult with people who are being paid minimum wage [to make ends meet]."
Heintz said low-income families or individuals often encounter an array of challenges when they try to transition from homelessness to affordable housing.
"There are a lot of working poor in our community, and when they are entering housing because they have just gotten a job—with everything that's involved, utility deposits—it's just a lot," Heintz said. "There's a lot of hurdles for people to have to jump over to try to obtain housing."
Another challenge is the availability of low-income or federally subsidized housing in the area.
"It's typical for all [Department of Housing and Urban Development] housing to be at 100 percent occupancy," said Stevi Lamb, co-manager at Fawn Ridge Apartments—a low-income housing complex on Sawdust Road. "It's typical to have a waiting list."
Lamb said Fawn Ridge is at 100 percent occupancy with a waiting list of 85 applicants.
"If it's not 100 percent occupied, it's 100 percent leased," Lamb said. "We're in between doing the make-ready."
The "make-ready" is when the apartment is being prepared for a new tenant, Lamb said.
At Fawn Ridge, a one-bedroom apartment rents for $478–$532, which runs on a sliding scale depending on income, Lamb said. A two-bedroom unit costs from $571–$635, and a three-bedroom unit runs from $601–$668.
"The goal is to get [the homeless] into permanent housing so they can be independent," Heintz said. "There's a huge need for affordable and transitional housing in our county."
Ann Snyder, Interfaith of The Woodlands president and CEO, said there is a significant shortage in the supply of affordable housing in The Woodlands and surrounding areas which Interfaith serves.
"There is a affordable housing in our service area, but the demand for that housing greatly exceeds the current supply," Snyder said. "Additionally, complexes that were resources for the working poor, those complexes are now accepting HUD and Section 8 vouchers, which further strains the supply of affordable housing."
According to HUD, HUD housing and Section 8 housing refer to federal assistance programs for low-income families to secure housing in the private market.
Homeless in The Woodlands
Heintz said the rise of homelessness in The Woodlands' is reflected in survey results conducted in the local wooded areas where surveyors find camps of homeless individuals. The homeless camps in The Woodlands are along Research Forest Drive up to FM 1488, he said.
Sandra Carpenter, founder of Angel Reach, a transitional
living program in Conroe, said she sees homeless individuals from The Woodlands at her facility.
"I've had clients that sleep in the parks in [The Woodlands], and then [Hwy.] 242 has large homeless camps on the east side of the freeway," she said.
"If there are trees, you can guess that there's going to be somebody sleeping in the woods," Carpenter said.
Snyder said her agency works with homeless individuals from The Woodlands and offers a variety of services and products.
"Interfaith of The Woodlands program coordinators see individuals from our service area, which includes south Montgomery County and north Harris County, who report they are homeless," Snyder said. "We provide these individuals with care packages, which include bottled water, personal hygiene products and referral information to the Homeless Service Center of Montgomery County."
Heintz said there has been a rise in the number of young people who are homeless this year. According to the homeless survey results, the average age of homeless individuals dropped from 38 years in 2013 to 28 this year.
"We're seeing more young people," she said. "Young people aren't getting enough education to be hired."