ABILENE, Texas (KTAB/KRBC) – Have you noticed a larger homeless population in Abilene? After an encampment at Elm Creek was reportedly cleaned up, West Texas Homeless Network reached out to explain that Abilene doesn’t have an increase in people experiencing homelessness, but they are being seen in public more often, and why.

“Some of what the public is actually seeing are those who are traditionally out of sight, out of mind that were hidden in encampments or places that are inhabitable, and they’ve kind of been pushed out of those situations,” explained Courtney Horton, Coalition Coordinator for the West Texas Homeless Network.

Horton told KTAB/KRBC this is because of encampment laws which were put into place by the State of Texas within the last two years, saying those experiencing homelessness may not set up an encampment in public areas. However, they may be charged with criminal trespassing if they go onto private property, so these individuals might not know where to go. 

“The data does not show in our system that we have had more people coming here because of the great city that we have here, but rather that they’re just more visible now,” Horton said. 

City Councilman Blaise Regan posted about this same issue on Facebook, saying there is another reason more homeless are being seen. 

“Previously, when we weren’t working on the Cedar Creek Walkway, there was an encampment down there, and it was out of sight, out of mind,” detailed Regan. “It’s pushed those people to now be on the streets of Abilene.” 

With all this awareness, Regan said there isn’t any one quick solution. Instead, he said he’d encourage city organizations to work together to create a system to help people get homes and jobs. While homelessness will always be an issue in any city, he said he wants to be sure the infrastructure is built in Abilene to be able to get those in need out of rough situations, whether that is by getting them identification, a place to stay, or a job. 

“There is a problem, and we’re looking into- it’s not just an issue where you can throw money at it,” Regan addressed. 

Horton echoed Councilman Regan’s sentiment through the coalition’s crisis response system. She said the coalition can direct anyone calling to the right location that will best serve their needs. 

Stakeholders and local shelters in this coalition are working to make homelessness become a rare, brief, and non-recurring episode, according to the West Texas Homeless Network. They use the only emergency shelter in town, the Salvation Army, as an entry point to get access to the coalition. 

“The only quick solution to get someone off the streets would be use of an emergency shelter. Although, it is evidence-based practice that shelters are not the answer,” Horton added. “That’s not a long-term solution. That’s [a] band-aid on a gaping wound. The actual issue is utilizing housing-first models that give people the ability to have affordable housing where they can sustain it for periods of time. That has to do with employable wages, that has to do with the cost of living, that has to do with planning places where people can live and afford to live.” 

While the solution is clear, Horton told KTAB/KRBC the coalition is working on how to make that happen for people here in our community – a conversation she said she’s now having with local stakeholders and shelters. 

If someone is on the cusp of experiencing homelessness or is already in that situation, Horton’s advice is to call The West Texas Homeless Network at 325-260-1417. You will be given a referral to whatever your next step may be.