2020 Annual Meeting Keynote Speaker, Mandy Chapman Semple, offers important updates on new homeless initiatives rolling out in our region.
In June 2015, Mayor Annise Parker announced that the City of Houston had nearly ended chronic homelessness for veterans. This announcement came amid news that dozens of the city entities and nonprofit organizations had pooled their resources and that by the end of a three-year period, more than 3,500 homeless veterans would be placed in housing. It was a bold thing to say -- and an even bolder thing to do. So, it’s no wonder the story made it to the pages and airwaves of everything from the city’s own Houston Public Media, to national outlets such as The Huffington Post.
Recent efforts to end homelessness in Houston have been successful to date. The region’s homeless response system has been systematically transformed, with the City, County, Federal Government, Coalition for the Homeless, Central Houston, Downtown District, the private sector, philanthropic community and nearly 70 different, local homeless service providers are all working together as partners on a regional, comprehensive initiative known as The Way Home. The initiative is currently composed of more than 100 partners who communicate and collaborate to meet all of the needs of those experiencing homelessness in our community.
In July 2020, The City of Houston, Harris County and the Coalition for the Homeless announced a joint, $65-million plan to house 5,000 people experiencing homelessness over the next two years to limit the spread of COVID-19. The Community COVID Housing Program (CCHP) will permanently house people who are currently experiencing literal homelessness (i.e. living in shelters, encampments or on the streets) as well as those who may fall into homelessness as a result of the economic effects of the coronavirus. Due to underlying health conditions and lack of access to facilities, people experiencing homelessness are more susceptible to the novel coronavirus and are at a higher risk of experiencing severe symptoms. While the long-term impacts of COVID on homelessness in our region are still unknown, we anticipate an increased need for housing, diversion, shelter and supportive services.
The Downtown District contracts with SEARCH Homeless Services to provide an outreach worker to seek out and engage with the homeless population within our Downtown. These specialists connect individuals experiencing homelessness to services and long-term supportive housing. SEARCH also provides a Clinical Case Manager to work with individuals that are chronically homeless and suffering from addiction or medical issues. A peer support specialist is also available to offer first-hand experience with homelessness to better connect with individuals and provide more support to those receptive to these services.
The Downtown homeless population is also served by the Harris Center who works with chronically homeless individuals suffering from mental health issues. The group works with clients that are referred by the District or SEARCH to connect individuals in need to programs that support long term strategies for mental health. As part of this effort, Harris County also provides a Deputy Sheriff trained in homeless outreach as a full-time partner with the case manager from Harris Center. Together, they meet the individuals where they are and transport them to facilities as needed.
The Public Intoxication Transport team was put in place after a surge in calls to EMS due to individuals temporarily inebriated because of alcohol or other illegal substances. This program partners with the Houston Recovery Center and provides a van for transportation, an EMS trained individual and a certified outreach specialist that drives around Downtown and Midtown proactively looking for individuals that may need assistance. This program works as a jail diversion solution that offers individuals an opportunity to sleep off their substance, and works with our Houston Recovery partners for long term preventative solutions to help individuals with their addictions and housing circumstance, when necessary.
Through these collaborative efforts, the District has played a major role in the significant changes related to coordinated housing and services for the homeless. Based on the annual Point in Time count, there has been a 54% reduction in homeless from 2011 to 2020. The Downtown District continues to work with city entities and nonprofit organizations to achieve transformational results.