New Homeless Housing Project in Houston

A new housing project for the chronically homeless is open in Houston. It's the city's first project to place the emphasis on permanent housing before providing other services. Houston Public Radio's Laurie Johnson reports.

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Five years ago, former Houston Mayor Bob Lanier delivered the eulogy for Jackson Hinds, a long-time activist for the homeless. In that eulogy, Lanier asked the Houston Housing Corporation to name their next project in memory of Hinds. They made good on that request and the Jackson Hinds Gardens Housing Project is now in operation. Housing Corporation President Tom Lord says this is the first development in Houston to offer single room occupancy homes to the homeless on a permanent basis.

"We've come up with a new concept, which is Housing First. They need housing, that's why they're homeless, they don't have a house. You give them a home and then you have a broad array of social services to give them support. But this is what we need, permanent housing facilities, and it took a while to kind of get that concept right."

Jackson Hinds Gardens can house up to 110 people and is already 75 percent full. The Mental Health Association and 16 other organizations will provide social services on site. Each organization has committed to providing resources without requiring new funding. Pam Twilley moved into her room last Friday. She had been living with friends, then ended up in the streets. She compares permanent housing to winning the lottery, saying for a homeless person it's the best thing that could ever happen.

"And so I've been waiting and waiting and I'm so happy now. [Reporter] 'Tell me about it. What's it like?' It's, I like it. It's just one room, it's got a bed and it's got a little end table, a refrigerator, microwave and a rack, you know, for your clothes. But no TV, I'm hoping I can get me a TV pretty soon. And I have my radio."

Each resident has to comply with certain rules. There is zero tolerance for drug and alcohol abuse. They also have to sign a year-long lease, although rent is subsidized by Housing and Urban Development. Each resident can live there as long as they need to, it truly is permanent housing. Artie Lee Hinds says her husband didn't have any grand ideas of saving the world, but worked hard to save the homeless.

"He always wanted to be sure he took care of those in his orbit and apparently he was a Houstonian and the citizens of Houston were in his orbit and he became very interested in this."

Jackson Hinds Gardens is located in the Independence Heights neighborhood. It's the first development in the city based on the Housing First model. It's also part of the city's 10-year strategic plan to end chronic homelessness. Laurie Johnson, Houston Public Radio News.

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