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Homelessness Worsens in Houston

Houston has seen a dramatic increase in demand for social services and homeless shelters. The recession and Hurricane Ike have brought a whole new group of people into the homeless system.
But for the first time — large amounts of money are available for homelessness prevention. Laurie Johnson reports.

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Houston has dozens of organizations that provide services to the homeless, hungry and jobless. And right now most of those organizations are dealing with the same problem.

“Our phones are lit up from the moment we start to the end of the day every day.”

That’s Gerald Eckert, the social services manager for the Salvation Army of Greater Houston. He says back in March things started getting bad.

“All of a sudden in March, everything changed and I had four times as many people calling me on the phone to get appointments to come in for assistance that we offer.”

Just a mile away from the Salvation Army offices, Thao Costis runs the Search Homeless Project. She says they track the number of people who seek services and the increase is staggering.

“Last year we saw almost 1,400 people in the year who were newly homeless first-time clients to us. This year, we’ve seen almost 2,200. So that’s a 60 percent increase in the number of people that are experiencing homelessness for the first time.”

And at the same time that more people are in need, donations are down by as much as 20 percent.

So the recent arrival of several million dollars in stimulus money comes at just the right time. Eckert says the federal grants are for rapid re-housing to help the newly homeless get out of shelters and into homes.

“This is the money that has never existed in Houston or other communities before to keep people from actually entering homelessness in the first place. It becomes much more difficult when a family or individual enters the homeless system that’s set in place to get back out again.”

The Salvation Army got nearly a million dollars for the homeless prevention program. Costis says Search got another 1.4 million and more than a dozen other agencies got money as well.

“You know I think one of the things that people are concerned about is that the stimulus money is a one-time shot — that it’s here for a year or two and then it’s gone and so what will we do. The thing is that this is an opportunity for us to make sure that the problem of homelessness doesn’t get bigger.”

Costis says the opportunity to put significant money toward prevention is a chance for organizations to prove there is a solution to homelessness.

Laurie Johnson. KUHF-Houston Public Radio News.

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Laurie Johnson-Ramirez

Laurie Johnson-Ramirez

News Director

Laurie Johnson-Ramirez leads news coverage for Houston Public Media across broadcast and digital platforms. Ramirez is a native Houstonian who started her career at Houston Public Media in 2002. Before becoming News Director, Ramirez held the position of Executive Producer for Daily News, leading daily and breaking news coverage, helping...

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