You may not notice it driving through Houston with homeless people panhandling near most highway bridges, but the city’s homeless population is on a steady decline.
The president of the Coalition for the Homeless of Houston and Harris County, Marilyn Brown, made the announcement in the courtyard of New Hope Housing, a permanent housing facility.
“Houston’s homeless population, on any given night, is down nearly 40 percent since 2011,” Brown said.
In numbers, that means this year’s count back in January found 5,351 people living on streets and in shelters in the Houston area. That is 3,187 fewer homeless people than when the count was conducted three years ago, and 1,000 fewer than last year.
Brown attributes this to a fundamental change in how to address homelessness two years ago.
“Traditionally, the community was very focused on, what do you eat today, where will you sleep, where will you get clothes, how will you get through the day as a homeless person,” she said. “We flipped that and said the question is, what housing services will best help you be successful to move into housing. And in the meantime, where are you going to eat, where will you get clothes.”
That shift came with the adoption of the so-called Continuum of Care, a planning process whose goal is to end rather than manage homelessness. Locally, it is a collaboration of different organizations and agencies in Houston, Harris County and Fort Bend County.
Brown said the key in their effort is the creation of more permanent supportive housing.
Mandy Chapman Semple is the special assistant to Mayor Annise Parker for Homeless Initiatives and was on Houston Matters on Thursday. She said the city is getting closer to its goal for the number of new housing units.
“We’re working toward putting 2,500 units of permanent supportive housing on the ground in 2015, and we’re well over half-way in our goal there,” Chapman Semple said. “And throughout that process, we’ve been able to house well over 1,400 chronically homeless individuals in that two-year period.”
But is the goal of ending homelessness altogether really possible?
“We completely believe that ending chronic homelessness is possible,” Brown said, “and those are the people who are in shelter and on streets, and that from that point forward, anybody who finds themselves facing homelessness, our goal is that they will not be without housing for longer than 30 days.”
The annual homeless count is mandated by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and helps determine the level of funding for local programs.