New Emphasis on an Old Problem

Experts from here and around the country gather for the third annual Homeless Conference in Houston. The event is presented by the Coalition for the Homeless of Houston and

Harris County. The aim is to recognize and eliminate barriers that might prevent solutions to the problem. Pat Hernandez has more.

Homelessness is an issue that affects Houston in ways that are not unusual in other cities. It has serious social, economic and public health problems that affect more than 30-thousand men, women and children in a year. Anthony Love is president and CEO of the Coalition for the Homeless of Houston and Harris County. He says the conference has been refined in the three years it’s been presented.

“It’s changed dramatically from the standpoint of the information that’s being delivered, the people that are being involved, we have many more what we call, subject matter experts engaging with providers who reach out to help people exit homelessness, and giving them the tools necessary to create better outcomes for the folks that are accessing their services.”

He says the conference has shifted its focus from just having people talking about homelessness:

“Much more interactive, much more engaged and involving more people and beginning to have more people think systematically of how we help people in homelessness in their lives.”

According to the Coalition, the typical face a homeless person in Houston is characterized as a 42-year old African-American male. Marilyn Fountain is with the Star of Hope Mission. She says the stereotype is not important because homelessness does not discriminate.

“It’s not a condition that you can narrow down to one type of person, because anybody can be homeless. So, it has changed. I think it will continue to change and it will continue to change and it will change according to what’s happening in the larger society.”

The suburban homeless are largely hidden. Rather than blend with people on the street, they’re more apt to sleep in cars or double up with friends or relatives. The conference included workshops on mental illness, housing and rental assistance and special needs for veterans. The economy has impacted support for agencies that deal with the homeless, like Star of Hope, but Fountain says Houstonians learn to adjust.

“Hard times actually tug at the heart of people here in the city to help who are experiencing hard times. The difference is people have to measure how much they can give.”

She sees the conference as an instrument in getting the message to the general Houston public so that people can begin to see homelessness from a broader perspective.

Pat Hernandez, KUHF…Houston Public Radio News.