Officials from the City of Houston, Harris County, and the nonprofit Coalition for the Homeless on Wednesday announced a $100 million initiative to house 7,000 more people experiencing homelessness and to make critical enhancements that will bring the region closer to ending homelessness. Federal COVID relief funding will be used for the second phase of the Community COVID Housing Program. The housing initiative has already housed a record number of people experiencing homelessness — more than 7,000 people since Oct. 2020.
At the announcement, the City and the County also officially signed on to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD)’s and the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness (USICH)’s national House America Initiative.
“In Phase 1, we not only met our goal, but we also beat it and did so in record time,” said Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner. “We are not resting on our laurels, together, we will do more, and we must keep the momentum going. Therefore, Houston and Harris County are doubling down and once again partnering with the Coalition for the Homeless and fellow agencies to launch the largest and most ambitious homeless initiative in the history of the City and County. Together, we can strategically utilize COVID-19 related funding to turn the crisis of the pandemic into an opportunity to reduce homelessness further and save lives.”
“By pulling together in the same direction, Harris County and Houston are showing the rest of America how to get within striking distance of solving an intractable issue like homelessness,” said County Judge Lina Hidalgo. “Our rapid deployment of creative, effective programs is changing countless lives for the better. This is how we make our community stronger, more resilient, and prosperous for everyone.”
“After a lifetime of working in public safety, I have focused on keeping our entire community safe for decades,” said Harris County Precinct 2 Commissioner Adrian Garcia. “We chose to partner again with the City of Houston and the Coalition for the Homeless on the Community COVID Housing Program because housing the homeless not only protects the homeless, it protects the broader community.”
“Everyone deserves access to a safe, stable, and affordable place to call home. Access to housing and shelter is a fundamental human right, yet we often treat housing as a commodity,” said Harris County Precinct 1 Commissioner Rodney Ellis. “We have an opportunity to end chronic homelessness in our community. That’s why I am excited to support ongoing funding with the City of Houston and proud that the County will continue to invest in our homelessness system through the Community COVID Housing Program.”
“Although Houston and Harris County just joined the 60+ communities part of House America, they’ve been following the spirit of the initiative,” said Anthony Love, Interim Executive Director, U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness (USICH). “They used federal funding for the COVID homeless housing program to set goals and break new records. They permanently rehoused 5,000 people – a year before they expected. The House America community can learn from Houston and Harris County.”
“The Way Home, the local homeless response system, continues to prove out how collaboration among governments, nonprofits, and philanthropy can provide long-term fiscally and morally responsible solutions to homelessness,” said Michael Nichols, president and CEO of the Coalition for the Homeless of Houston/Harris County.
Funding for Phase 2 of housing-focused pandemic response
First announced in July 2020, the Community COVID Housing Program (CCHP) is a housing-focused response to the pandemic for people experiencing homelessness. Led by the Coalition and implemented by about a dozen homeless service provider agencies, the CCHP pioneered the use of housing as a pandemic response. It has become a model for other cities and counties across the country looking to use federal funding for maximum impact for people experiencing homelessness.
Harris County intends to invest $35 million in American Rescue Plan (ARP) Local Fiscal Recovery Funds in Phase 2 of the CCHP, with $29.5 million committed by Commissioners Court this week on top of $5.5 million previously approved. The City of Houston plans allocate at least $35 million — including funds approved by City Council today for a $6.2 million housing navigation center — and helped secure $26 million from the Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs (TDHCA). The Coalition will raise additional funding for Phase 2 from private philanthropy, making it a public-private partnership.
Partnership with national initiative
On Wednesday, the City and the County officially signed on to the House America Initiative. House America is a national partnership in which HUD and USICH invite local leaders to “use the historic investments provided through ARP to address the crisis of homelessness through a Housing First approach by immediately re-housing and building additional housing for people experiencing homelessness,” according to a release from USICH. This aligns with the approach that the City, County, Coalition, and community partners have been implementing successfully for over a year.
Success of Phase 1 of the Community COVID Housing Program
Through the first phase of the CCHP, the partners of The Way Home — the local homeless response system — have been able to accelerate their work and have housed more than 7,000 people experiencing homelessness — or on the verge of homelessness — since October 2020. The number of people permanently housed through the CCHP exceeds the number of people housed in the two previous years combined.
The initial goal of Phase 1 the housing initiative was to house 5,000 people over two years. Since the official start of the CCHP in October 2020:
- More than 1,080 people experiencing chronic (long-term) homelessness have been housed in Permanent Supportive Housing,
- More than 3,180 people have been housed via Rapid Rehousing (short-term rental assistance and light case management services),
- And more than 2,780 people have been prevented from falling into homelessness via Diversion.
- For a total of more than 7,000 people housed Oct. 1, 2020, to Jan. 11, 2022.