WEST TEXAS (KMID/KPEJ) – “Our total was 255 people in Midland County…76 that we found unsheltered on the street, and 155 that are in programs so it’s a bigger number than we think sometimes,” said John Mark Echols, Founder and CEO of The Field’s Edge.

West Texas might not be known for homelessness– but many people do struggle with having stable and dependable housing. Not just chronic homelessness– but newly displaced is what local organizations are seeing lately.

“West Texas is different because people come out here for work. And then they get stranded when the work doesn’t pan out,” said Captain Robert Coriston.

Captain Coriston works for the Salvation Army of Midland, an organization that shelters, feeds, and helps put people to work. He says a big issue homeless people face is lack of identification.

“A big one was no identification. So you can’t get disability, you can’t. And then for somebody to try to get identification, when you’re living in a tent, it’s impossible, you need an address. So the first thing we did was we started a program here at the Salvation Army to get birth certificates, social security IDs,” continued Capt. Coriston.

He does say no one who is homeless in West Texas should ever be hungry.

“Well, we serve three meals a day here, and Breaking Bread serves meals, the Soup Kitchen serves meals, no one homeless should ever be hungry. There’s so many agencies around here that you know, they make sure,” Capt. Coriston said.

Shirley Almanza has been involved with Breaking Bread Ministries for a number of years; another local organization that feeds West Texans– no questions asked.

“So we do go out every morning and feed them breakfast, because that may be the only hot meal that they get during the day if we bring it to them,” said Almanza.

Another group fighting against homelessness is The Field’s Edge; it provides tiny homes to chronically homeless people.

“So when people qualify to live here, they can stay for the rest of their life. They do pay rent and we empower them to earn dignified income through different job opportunities. So we really believe in the value of work,” said Echols. “And so our offsite program…really empowers people that are homeless, have no IDs to get started with a job to get some help obtaining their documents, and some guidance towards the next steps.”

Field’s Edge finished construction on some of its homes in 2022. Nine people now live there. They are looking to expand– with 40 more homes over the next several years

“But yeah, our folks primarily that live here are what’s defined as chronically homeless, and so they’d been homeless for at least a year in Midland County. And most of them are 55 and older, they’ve been homeless 10 to 20 years,” said Echols. “And so their average life expectancy on the street is 57 years old. So we really catch them at what would be the end of their life and hope to extend it by providing better care and a place to call home.”

Getting to the root of the problem is what our local organizations are trying to do.

“Yeah, so there are many triggers to homelessness, there could be loss of job, it could be mental health, addiction, all sorts of triggers, that could happen to somebody,” said Echols. “But the reality is that those things happen to everybody. And the difference is that the folks that end up homeless just don’t have any support system. So we believe that the root of homelessness is the catastrophic disconnection of family and community.”

“And your experience. Have you seen anybody that wants to be homeless? I have not. I’ve never met anybody that wants to be homeless,” said Capt. Coriston. “I think that you know, when we’re in elementary school, and the teacher asks us what we want to be when we grow up, nobody says homeless. And when it’s 15 degrees outside, nobody wants to be homeless. I think that sometimes you may hear that from people. But I believe that that’s an element of trying to be in control of their situation rather than feeling helpless”

While these local organizations work to solve homelessness, they also discourage panhandlers, especially as the holidays near.

“None of our clients are allowed to panhandle. I’ve stopped and I’ve interviewed (the) people (who) panhandle and I’ve seen them get into their cars, I’ve seen a white van dropping them off, like, like, you got this corner, you got this corner. And I’ve seen that happen. And I’m sure maybe there’s a couple that are truly homeless,” continued Capt. Coriston. “But I honestly believe just by the fact that they don’t come to us for other services, just that the fact that I’ve never seen him in different homeless circles or encampments, or come to stay with us a few days. I think one of the worst things you can do is give to a panhandler.”

“Rather than give them money if you really want to help them. Give them a ride to us,” said Capt. Coriston.