|A joint city of Houston and Harris County program has made significant progress in addressing homelessness during the pandemic. Independent data recently released by the Coalition for the Homeless showed a 21 percent decrease in homelessness from January 2020 to January 2022.
The decrease directly results from the Community COVID-19 Homeless Housing Program, a joint city and county program launched in October 2020. Instead of primarily utilizing shelters and short-term motels to mitigate the impacts of the pandemic on the homeless population, the city and county strategically deployed permanent housing as its infectious disease response within the homeless community. During the first 14-months, the program housed more than 7,000 individuals experiencing homelessness or who were at-risk of becoming homeless.
“Reducing homelessness by over 20 percent in just two years is a massive achievement. To do it during a pandemic is unheard of and truly remarkable,” said Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner. “By utilizing housing with supportive services, we immediately protected folks experiencing homelessness from the pandemic while achieving the long-term impact of reducing homelessness. The data shows our strategies and programs are on the right track, and our invaluable partnership with Harris County and the community is working. While we are proud of the program’s progress, we are committed to working with our partners to do more.”
The city and county jointly funded the Community COVID-19 Homeless Housing Program with more than $65 million of federal pandemic-related funds. In January of this year, the City and County announced an additional $100 million investment to extend and enhance the program through 2024. More than 100 agencies of the homeless response system – The Way Home – worked together, under the coordination of the Coalition for the Homeless, to house a record number of individuals and reduce homelessness below pre-Harvey levels for the first time since the storm.
“This incredible news shows that we’re capable of tackling the most intractable social problems we face when we work together to do it,” said Harris County Judge Hidalgo. “It speaks volumes that even in the face of this painful pandemic that we’ve managed to reach this milestone.”
The recently released data on the region’s homeless population was compiled through the 2022 Annual Homeless Count & Survey managed by the Coalition for the Homeless. To ensure accuracy, this year’s count returned to the identical methodology used prior to the pandemic. More than 475 volunteers spent three days canvassing the region’s streets, bayous, woods, parking lots, etc., locating individuals who may be experiencing homelessness. The data showed the number of individuals experiencing homelessness (on the streets and in shelters) throughout the county on any given night was reduced from 3,753 in 2020, to 2,964 in 2022.
“It’s hard to say which has been more impactful in reducing homelessness: our partnership with the City of Houston and area agencies… or the combined financial investments we’ve made,” said Harris County Precinct 2 Commissioner Adrian Garcia. “Regardless, I am thrilled to know that we are delivering on our promise to reduce chronic homelessness. This is an example to the country on how a county can be effective with our money and resources in making an impact on a social issue that has long been considered unsolvable.”