Housing

Houston’s unhoused population decreased due to a $200 million investment, a new report says

The report found a 19% decrease in overall homelessness in the Houston area since 2020, and a 64% decrease since 2011.

A homeless encampment beneath an I-59 overpass during Hurricane Harvey in 2017. Homeless populations are once again some of the most vulnerable as the coronavirus spreads.

Unhoused people in the Houston area are being placed in permanent housing at an increased rate after the city of Houston and Harris County invested nearly $200 million to reduce homelessness in the area, according to an annual count of the region's homeless population.

The Coalition for the Homeless of Houston and Harris County counted 3,223 unhoused people in Harris, Fort Bend and Montgomery counties during its annual point-in-time count in January. The coalition found a 19% decrease in overall homelessness in the region since 2020, and a 64% decrease since 2011, according to the report.

The report compared the number of those placed in permanent housing over the last three years from October to September and found that 3,845 people were housed between October 2020 and September 2021 — nearly two times higher than the previous year, which saw 1,886 people being housed.

The report attributes the increase to the Community COVID Housing Program, or CCHP, which was created after the city and county invested $65 million in July 2020 with the goal of housing 5,000 people by October 2022.

As of Feb. 21, 2022, more than 7,700 people have been housed through the CCHP, according to the coalition’s website.

In January 2022, the city and county allocated an additional $100 million with the goal of housing an additional 7,000 people by 2024.

Ana Rausch, Coalition for the Homeless vice president of program operations, said the group has focused primarily on permanent housing in response to the pandemic.

“We believe that housing (and) supportive services is really the only way to permanently solve homelessness,” Rausch said.

Of the 3,223 counted individuals, a little more than half — 1,721 — were living in shelters on Jan. 24, a 26% decrease since 2020. Rausch said the number of those in shelters — as opposed to on the street — would have been higher were it not for the pandemic.

“Because of the pandemic, in the very beginning of the pandemic, the coalition helped some of our shelters to decompress,” she said. “So because of that, we can’t really be sure that the sheltered count is what it would have been prior to the pandemic.”

The pandemic has also affected the count itself, which was forced to change methodology last year. In 2021, no volunteers were used and the count was conducted over 10 days. The coalition returned to its standard methodology this year, but Rausch cautioned against directly comparing the results of this year's homeless count to last year’s due to the discrepancy.

The report also found that:

  • Thirteen percent of those surveyed said the pandemic was to blame for their homelessness — slightly down from 15% the previous year;
  • Black individuals represent 20% of Harris County’s total population, yet they comprised more than half of those experiencing homelessness;
  • More than 25,000 people have been placed in permanent housing since 2011;
  • The percent of those counted who were veterans remained basically the same — 10% vs. 7% — but the percent of veterans classified as chronically homeless decreased to 25% from 38% in 2020.

The annual count can’t provide an exact number of people experiencing homelessness for several reasons, including the daily fluctuating number and the vast area volunteers need to canvass. However, the count is considered highly effective at illustrating trends over time, according to Michael Nichols, president and CEO of the Coalition for the Homeless.

“We have gained a deeper understanding of how our homeless response system is succeeding and identified areas for improvement," Nichols said in a press release. “We know that we have more work ahead of us as we strive to solve homelessness in Houston."

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