Houston still doing well sheltering the homeless

Good news.

As she waited for the results of a yearly census of the Houston area’s homeless population, Ana Rausch clicked open an email detailing the soaring number of eviction filings in Harris County. This March, 6,600 households had evictions filed against them, compared to a pre-COVID average of 3,800.

As the vice president of program operations for the Coalition for the Homeless of Houston and Harris County, which coordinates the region’s homelessness response, she viewed the data with some worry. She hoped the count wouldn’t show a corresponding increase in homelessness.

Now that the results are in, she is relieved, she said. During a year that saw both evictions and funding for Houston’s programs combating homelessness soar, 2023’s overall count stayed flat from the year before, with the number of people living in tents, cars and other places unfit for habitation down and the number of people in shelters up.

Every year, thousands of volunteers fan out across the country to take stock of their regions’ homeless populations. It’s this census, known as the Point-in-Time Count, that has brought Houston national recognition for its success in reducing its homeless population by roughly two-thirds since 2011.

The 2023 results, released Wednesday morning, showed the count of people living in tents, cars and other places unfit for habitation dropped 17 percent in the Houston area, to 1,200 people from 1,500 the year before. At the same time, the number of people living in shelters increased 18 percent, to 2,000 from 1,700. In the past year, shelters lifted the social distancing measures that sharply reduced the number of beds available during the pandemic.


Mayor Sylvester Turner also trumpeted the reduction of people living on the streets, in vehicles or in other unsheltered situations. Such a result “does not happen by mistake,”  he said in a release. “Rather it’s the result of making it a top priority, enhancing our invaluable partnership with Harris County and the community, and strategically funding data-proven, holistic housing solutions.”

In 2022, Houston, Harris County, the Coalition for the Homeless and their partners poured resources into a strategy of closing down homeless camps by offering everyone in them housing. The strategy has required opening a navigation center, where people moved out of a camp can stay while awaiting their permanent housing, and renting out units where people can stay longterm with supportive services such as caseworkers. The city, county and their partners housed 2,500 people in 2022, and more than 9,000 people who had been without homes were housed through their programs on the night of the count.

In a year when inflation spiked and many eviction protections ended, “We suspect that we might be somewhat unique and remarkable in the fact that we saw our unsheltered count go down,” said Catherine Villarreal, director of communications for the Coalition. However, many cities have yet to release their results from this year’s count, so it’s to be seen how Houston’s results compare.

See here for some background. These counts aren’t perfect – people couch-surfing with friends and acquaintances will be missed, for example – but the big picture is there, and it’s a good one for Houston. There will always be more work to do, but we have done a lot to improve this situation for thousands of people. We should be proud of that. Axios has more.

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