Homeless Housing Success in Houston

Over the last 12 years Houston has become an example for combatting homelessness in partnership with neighboring counties.

Photo of a person's belongings under an overpass.A common assessment of human service programs will often hinge on the ability of agencies to work across divisional silos. Many residents who rely on these services often have several needs related to resource scarcity i.e. shelter, food, transportation and the like. For homeless housing in particular, a recent Governing article shared the success Houston has experienced with a similar strategy for breaking through organizational barriers to create one single umbrella to address the needs of unhoused residents.

The article described the experience of a woman who was encouraged and convinced to go to a shelter by counselors from Houston’s Coalition for the Homeless. While this non-governmental organization was the initial touch point, the woman was funneled through a process that included three non-profit organizations and two governmental departments. In recapping her experience the article shared that after working with the counselors, she received a ride from the public paratransit service that took her to a shelter run by another nonprofit. A veterinarian treatment was then organized for her dog through the Humane Society before they were reunited in an apartment that was being paid for by a government agency.

This tag-team style program is run by the Coalition for the Homeless, the leading agency for The Way Home, which is a collective effort to address homelessness. This group incorporates Houston, Harris County, two neighboring counties and no fewer than 100 separate nonprofits. The article claims close coordination has become a habit for this co-hort, with duplication and wasted effort removed from the process.

“The working relationship between the city and the county in addressing homelessness could not be better,” says Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner. “Instead of a hundred NGOs competing with each other, we’ve kind of pulled them all together. They’re now operating under a single umbrella, The Way Home.”

A little over a decade after the project began, Houston has reduced the homeless population by 64 percent, with a 17 percent drop over the past year. Statistics show the area has gone from having an average of 8,500 people on the streets per night to about 3,200 currently homeless with all but 1,200 of them in shelters. And the buy-in from public safety officials has been a key factor contributing to the success of the program. From the article:

“For us in Harris County, our primary focus really stems from knowing that in policing these days, we’re on the front lines of three key issues: mental illness, addiction and poverty,” says Sheriff Ed Gonzalez. “And so I think it’s important for us to recognize that it really is a public health issue: How can we better develop those systems of care, to better route people where they may need to be, rather than just looking at it through the lens of policing.”

Read the full Governing article.