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. Like never before, the system is working together by combining its resources and efforts in a targeted fashion to achieve transformational results.
The year’s preliminary report of the annual point-in-time count in late January shows an estimated 50% reduction in homelessness across the Houston, Harris County, and Fort Bend County region January 2011 to January 2015.
Annual Point-In-Time Count
This is reduction is consistent with efforts over the last three years to rapidly return homeless veterans and their families as well as chronically homeless individuals and families to permanent housing. The following charts reflect housing placements rates against annual homeless counts. Partners progress is ahead of pace and thus on track to end chronic homelessness by the end of 2015.
Chronically Homeless Housing Placements
The Houston area has reached steady state on veteran homelessness in 2014. The Houston system has built a system that ensures every veteran that becomes homeless has access to appropriate permanent housing. Houston anticipates housing about 1200 homeless veterans annually at steady state.
Homeless Veteran Households Housing Placements
In January 2015, partners launched a new model of rapid rehousing for families. Public and private funders have braided over $5 million in resources to rapidly rehouse about 1000 families each year. This new model is designed to provide an average of six months of financial assistance and housing stabilization case management resulting in greater than 80% housing stabilization rates. Similar methods were used to rapidly rehouse homeless veterans and their families with success. This puts Houston on pace to end family homelessness by the federal goal of 2020.
Partners have also started new prevention initiatives for homeless young adults (transition aged youth) especially those aging out of the foster care system. Robust planning and piloting efforts are underway in 2015 to develop a comprehensive response system for youth. Most recently, the team worked with Child Protective Services to development a screening tool to predict which kids in foster care are most likely to become chronically homeless so that they can be connected with permanent supportive housing as an early intervention.
As Houston’s system has now developed appropriate long-term solutions for each of the most vulnerable subpopulations, attention has turned to the remaining individuals who roam our downtown streets throughout the day. Although data is incomplete for this population, their use of homeless services has been analyzed and some clear conclusions can be drawn about who this population is, what their needs appear to be, and ideas about how to respond quickly.
The data suggests many of these individuals (70%) use fewer than 15 days of homeless services annually (night shelter, day services, transitional housing programs). This trend is particularly prevalent in the data of those accessing day services, suggesting that many of these individuals are self-resolving their homelessness without intervention and others are not in fact homeless.
The Beacon Day Shelter – 2014 Service Frequency
Further investigation has suggested that many of these individuals experience episodic housing instability due to a lack of appropriate affordable housing options. Many of these individuals are relegated to shelter in pay-by-day bunkhouses about half of which reside in these bunkhouses for years. Most work either regular employment or more often day labor and pay $10-12 per night or $200-$280 per month for a bunk and sometimes a locker. This investigation also identified that although the market has produced several bunkhouses, many are not operating up to appropriate standards or in connection to other critical support services like employment programs. Individuals are not provided space to store personal items, hang out during their off hours, or prepare meals. Thus, they are flooding the day service centers and hanging out on downtown streets throughout the day.
This conclusion is further supported by a recent follow up point-in-time count in the central business district. Following the official point in time count conducted from 5:30pm-11:30pm on January 29th outreach teams identified areas of high concentration and repeated the counts from 4am-7am two weeks later. They found the early morning counts to be 30% lower than the evening counts which reiterates that many individuals hanging out downtown in the day and evening hours are not actually sleeping downtown and most likely are not literally homeless.
With this new understanding system leadership is putting into motion a series of activities to increase the availability of quality hostel-type living environments in the near future, launch a comprehensive employment initiative to create better access to jobs, and continue altering the location and operations of homeless services in response to the reductions in homelessness. It is critical that the homeless response system is scaled to serve those who are truly homeless and in need of intervention and that the community begins to connect existing support programs to help prevent those who marginally housed from entering the homeless system to receive day services downtown. As these operational adjustments are made, it will be critical to work with HPD and other security teams to redirect folks back to the neighborhoods in which they actually reside.