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Houston Homeless Agencies Make Big Push To End Chronic Homelessness

This week hundreds of social workers and volunteers will fan out across Harris County for the annual homeless count. This time homeless service providers are making big changes to the way they document the numbers.

This week hundreds of social workers and volunteers will fan out across Harris County for the annual homeless count. It’s a federally mandated census of the homeless population, but this time homeless service providers are making big changes to the way they document the numbers.

In years past, it was fairly simple: count the number of homeless people staying in shelters on a single night, and then drive around the county and take a visual count of people on the streets. Marilyn Brown, who heads the Coalition for the Homeless, says they had to do it that way because of the number of people and size of the geographic area they needed to cover.

“So the count for the last five years has been observational only. That team of volunteers made a judgment about someone they saw just by driving by and looking through the car window,” said Brown, CEO of Coalition for the Homeless.

But over the past few years the city and county have made a major push to end chronic homelessness and get more people into permanent housing. That’s led to a 46 percent decrease in the homeless population since 2011. 

Brown says that means this year they finally have the ability to meet with every homeless person they encounter and do more than simply count the numbers. So for three days, 55 teams of trained homeless agency employees will criss-cross the region and conduct surveys.

“By really knowing who’s on the street in our jurisdiction, what their circumstances are, knowing them by name, we will feel very solid when we get to the point of saying everyone who’s out there does have an option for housing,” Brown said.

Brown says doing the count this way will also help the county’s 60+ homeless agencies figure out what kinds of gaps there are in services. For example, there are typically two main triggers for homelessness: mental health problems and economic problems. Brown says with the downturn in the Houston economy, this year’s count may show an increase in the number of people who simply need a little help after a financial crisis.

“And those folks want to stay in the neighborhoods where they were living when they were housed. Now they’ve probably not been on the street as long. And with a different type of assistance and support they can get back on their feet quicker,” Brown said.

Based on last year’s count, there are still more than 4,000 sheltered and unsheltered homeless people in Harris County on any given night. And Brown says the goal is to find them each a permanent home.

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Laurie Johnson

Laurie Johnson

Executive Producer for News

Laurie Johnson leads daily news coverage for HPM. She helps reporters craft and sharpen their stories on tight deadlines, with the aim of getting the most relevant and current information into local newscasts. Laurie is a native Houstonian who started her career at Houston Public Media in 2002. She is...

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