City of Houston and partners announce historic plan to house the homeless

The City of Houston, Harris County, and the Coalition for the Homeless today 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-wide COVID-19 Housing Program (CCHP) represents an unprecedented coordinated effort on the part of the City and the County to address homelessness in the region.

Due to underlying health conditions and a lack of access to facilities, people experiencing homelessness are more susceptible to the novel coronavirus and are at higher risk of experiencing severe symptoms.

The CCHP will permanently house people who are currently experiencing literal homelessness (e.g., 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.

“This program is vital to protect the health of at-risk, homeless individuals, prevent potential communal spread to other populations, and assist those forced into homelessness by COVID-19,” said Mayor Sylvester Turner. “This crisis response program will also have a major long-term impact, permanently housing 5,000 individuals experiencing homelessness and significantly reducing our homeless population to record lows. Homelessness knows no geographical boundaries. I am grateful for the County’s partnership, for this is truly a watershed opportunity that will benefit all who call Houston and Harris County home.”

The City of Houston has dedicated $29 million and Harris County has allocated $18 million to this groundbreaking endeavor. The City and County are utilizing a variety of federal funds, including significant funding from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act.

“Together, we are making the single largest investment in addressing chronic homelessness in our region’s history,” said Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo. “Meaningful change happens when we work together to think outside the box, shift paradigms and invest in innovative solutions. This is the beginning of a new approach here in Harris County and it’s going to take continued effort from all of us. I look forward to applying solutions that are compassionate, that work, and that save taxpayer dollars in the long term.”

“I made a commitment early in my administration to address the issue of homelessness in Harris County, and for that reason I am grateful to the Coalition for the Homeless, the partner agencies of The Way Home, my fellow members of Commissioners Court who voted in favor of the funding, and the City of Houston for their financial commitment,” said Harris County Precinct 2 Commissioner Adrian Garcia, who brought the funding request before the county court on June 30, where it was approved unanimously. “Our combined investment will dramatically reduce chronic homelessness in the City of Houston and throughout Harris County, and I am confident it will become a model for others to emulate. Now more than ever, with the current COVID-19 crisis putting so many people’s living situations at an increased risk, having access to stable housing options is vital for the entire community’s health.”

“During this unprecedented time, taking care of the most vulnerable among us must be a priority,” said Harris County Precinct 1 Commissioner Rodney Ellis. “The continuing economic crisis could push even more people who were already struggling before the pandemic deeper into poverty and possibly homelessness. I am proud that this collaboration will help us address this challenge by providing stable housing for 5,000 individuals and families over the next two years. Caring for those most in need makes our entire community healthier and safer.”

The Coalition for the Homeless helped to coordinate the planning efforts and will lead the implementation of the CCHP, expected to begin in August. The nonprofit Coalition for the Homeless is the lead agency to the local homeless response system The Way Home.

“We are so appreciative that the City and the County have decided to join forces in this effort,” said Mike Nichols, president & CEO of the Coalition. “We will continue to work with them on implementation and to secure the remaining funds. Together with the service providers of The Way Home, we will build a healthier, more resilient community and make tangible progress toward our goal of making homelessness in our region rare, brief, and non-recurring.”

The CCHP will include several forms of intervention depending on individuals’ level of need, including the following:

  • Diversion: A program to help approximately 2,000 people maintain or regain housing so that they do not have to enter emergency shelter. Assistance may be financial (i.e., up to three months’ rent) or may include family mediation or creative problem-solving.
  • Rapid rehousing: Short-term (up to 12 months’) rental assistance and light services for those who do not require intensive case management, for approximately 1,700 newly homeless people.
  • A “bridge” to permanent supportive housing (PSH): Housing for approximately 1,000 people currently experiencing chronic homelessness — including those living unsheltered and/or in encampments — while they await a PSH unit.

The CCHP also involves expanding homeless outreach to those living unsheltered outside of Houston’s urban core; mental health case management for high-risk individuals; and additional support for emergency shelters, including those for survivors of domestic violence, to help them implement CDC health and safety recommendations.

This ambitious program will also require private philanthropic support in strategic areas where public funding cannot be used and that will keep people successful in housing over the long term. Local property managers will also have a key role to play in solving homelessness.

The 2020 Point-in-Time Homeless Count & Survey, the results of which the Coalition released June 23, found approximately 3,700 people experiencing literal homelessness in Harris County, including approximately 2,200 sheltered and 1,500 unsheltered. The night of record for the 2020 Homeless Count was January 27, 2020; the Count represents the number of people experiencing homelessness on a single day in the region.

It is not known how many people in the region will fall into homelessness as a result of the coronavirus. The CCHP proposes to quickly and permanently house as many people as possible, as soon as possible, so that the local homeless response system will be prepared to meet the needs of the newly homeless in the coming months.