City working to reduce homelessness

Houston’s homeless population is declining, but Mayor Sylvester Turner hopes his new plan will get that number down even more. The mayor’s plan involves expedited efforts to permanently house the homeless, more shelter beds, new public health and safety regulations and an anti-panhandling awareness campaign.

“Houston has achieved significant reductions in homelessness in recent years, but I am committed to doing even more,” Turner said.  “It is simply not acceptable for people to live on the streets; it is not good for them, and it is not good for the city.

“We will tackle this complicated issue, and we will do it humanely with a meaningful approach that balances the needs of the homeless and the concerns of neighborhoods they impact.”

At the center of the mayor’s plan is expansion of the Way Home, the coordinated housing initiative of 100 public and private organizations that has reduced overall homelessness by 57 percent over the last five years. Another 500 chronically homeless individuals will be placed in permanent supportive housing within six months.

Coupled with this aggressive goal, the community, often with direct city support, is continuing to invest in new permanent supportive housing units, but more apartments are still needed. The mayor is calling upon apartment owners and landlords with vacant units to step forward and be part of the solution.

Another 215 shelter beds will come online in August when the new Star of Hope campus on Reed Road is completed.  In addition, the city is pursuing creation of one or more secure and professionally managed covered outdoor spaces with restroom facilities where up to 75 individuals could stay temporarily.

“In this city, we are not going to abandon our most vulnerable,” said Turner.  “The goal is to get as many people as possible into permanent housing or shelters, but even with all of the assistance being offered, there will still be people who choose to stay on the streets.

“It would be wrong to tell these people they cannot be here or there without providing a suitable alternative.  I am inviting the community and City Council to help identify locations in their districts we can use as temporary outdoor shelters and for feeding the hungry.”

The city will continue weekly cleanups of encampments to address health and safety concerns while the homeless are transitioning to shelters and permanent supportive housing. The Houston Police Department Homeless Outreach Team (HOT) is expanding so there can be increased interaction and assistance for the homeless.

Another component is a new ordinance outlawing tents on public property.  This ordinance will prohibit people from putting up tents but will not make it illegal to sleep outdoors.  There will be a 30-day transition period during which HPD’s HOT team will work to compassionately redirect people in encampments to housing alternatives.