"Be The Key To Ending Homelessness"

by Coalition for the Homeless of Houston/Harris County
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"Be The Key To Ending Homelessness"
"Be The Key To Ending Homelessness"
"Be The Key To Ending Homelessness"
"Be The Key To Ending Homelessness"
"Be The Key To Ending Homelessness"
"Be The Key To Ending Homelessness"
"Be The Key To Ending Homelessness"
"Be The Key To Ending Homelessness"
"Be The Key To Ending Homelessness"

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.

Multimedia: click here to watch a recording of the press event.

 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.
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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 Houston 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.

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The 2020 Point-In-Time Homeless Count & Survey found a total of 3,974 individuals experiencing homelessness - 2,318 (58.3% people living sheltered and 1,656 (41.7%) people living unsheltered - in Harris, Fort Bend, and Montgomery counties, Texas. These results reflect a 53% decrease in overall homelessness since 2011. The night of record for the 2020 Homeless Count was January 27, with the unsheltered portion conducted over a three-day period from January 28-30.

The Coalition for the Homeless coordinates the annual Count on behalf of the local homeless response system, The Way Home. The Count informs the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development of the effectiveness of collaboration and homeless programs in Harris, Fort Bend, andMontgomery counties. The annual Count cannot provide an exact number of people experiencing homelessness for several reasons, including the daily fluctuating number and the large size (3,700+square miles) of the area being canvassed by volunteers. However, it is considered a critical metric and is highly effective at illustrating trends over time. The Count results are combined with additional data points, like the information stored in the Homeless Management InformationSystem (HMIS), to gauge progress of the local homeless response system.

“The fact that the unsheltered count has remained relatively unchanged the past three years points to that fact that our programs work, and, as a system, we have been able to fully maximize the housing resources available to maintain a steady state, which, in 2019, meant we secured permanent housing for more than 2,000 people,” said Michael C. Nichols, president/CEO of theCoalition for the Homeless. “However, 1,600 people sleeping on the street is not acceptable, and we won’t be able to make further progress as a homeless response system without a considerable influx of resources.”

The 2020 Count results show the effectiveness of The Way Home programs and that the key to solving homelessness is permanent housing combined with supportive services. More than 5,800 individuals, veterans and families have been placed in permanent housing in since Harvey. However, progress has plateaued as the number of unsheltered individuals has remained relatively steady during the same period: 1,614 (2018), 1,614 (2019) and 1,656 (2020). To address the potential inflow from the COVID-19 pandemic, and ultimately return to the progress that was being achieved prior to Harvey, the local homeless response system will require additional financial resources.

“Our permanent housing programs are more important now than ever for several reasons,” said Ana Rausch, vice president of program operations at the Coalition for the Homeless. “First, getting people experiencing homelessness into permanent housing protects them from COVID-19 and limits community spread. For them, housing is healthcare. Second, we won’t know the extent of

COVID-19’s impact on our region until next year’s Count, but we are expecting an increase in the number of people experiencing homelessness as the economic effects of the pandemic are felt over the coming months, and we want to be prepared to meet their needs. Finally, as we brace for an active hurricane season in the midst of the coronavirus crisis, if we can reduce the number of people experiencing homelessness, our community will be more resilient when the next disaster hits.”

Additional key findings from the 2020 Homeless Count include:

  • 30% of the adult population experiencing homelessness on the night of the Count met the definition of chronic homelessness, meaning they have experienced homelessness for more than a year and have a mental and/or physical disability
  • 32% of the adult population experiencing homelessness self-reported suffering from a serious mental illness
  • 26% of the adult population self-reported substance use disorder
  • 267 Veterans experiencing homelessness were counted in the 2020 Count, compared to 376 Veterans counted in 2019
  • People identifying as Black or African American are disproportionately represented, making up 56.2% of the total population experiencing homelessness, but only 19.9% of the Harris County population
  • Nearly 56,000 individuals touched HMIS in 2019. Of those, approximately 23,000 accessed a program specifically for those experiencing literal homelessness.
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n 2015  Mr. Callier fell into addiction which altered his life more than he ever thought possible; after losing his job, wife, and home, Mr. Callier found himself living out on the streets in Brenham, TX. After months of struggles and battling the loss of the life he once knew, he came to Houston looking for change. 

Although Mr. Callier was still experiencing homelessness after he arrived in Houston, his fortunes started to change here. In November 2019, the Coalition for the Homeless led the planning and coordination of a Navigation Event at the Beacon where dozens of agencies came together in a single location to quickly move people experiencing homelessness through the navigation process as quickly as possible.

It was here where a member of SEARCH Homeless Services’ outreach team, Otha connected with Mr. Callier and began to change his life.

That day, Otha brought Mr. Callier into the event and helped walk him through the process of getting an assessment, getting enrolled, and beginning the procedure for housing.

Mr. Callier credits Otha with ending his homelessness; he shared that if Otha hadn’t approached him and invited him into this event he wouldn’t have gone through the navigation process and moved into housing.

After the Navigation Event, Mr. Callier worked with Micah, a Housing Navigator with the Coalition for the Homeless, who worked to complete all the necessary requirements for housing, applying for apartments, and moving in. On December 19, a little over a month after the Navigation Event, Mr. Callier moved off of the street and into a home to call his own for the first time in four years!

“To have a house with walls is a blessing!” says Mr. Callier.  

When we asked Mr. Callier what his biggest challenge was while experiencing homelessness he said, “It’s easy to become comfortable in an uncomfortable situation when you can’t change it instantly.” One example of that was getting a tent and how it was both a blessing - community, ownership, comfort - and a curse – a tent made homelessness feel more permanent and made him feel outcasted from society.

One of the biggest changes for Mr. Callier since moving into housing has been establishing a social network within his new complex and neighborhood. He expressed how it was hard to get comfortable living inside when his friends and life on the streets was all he had known for four years.

But he also said that having a schedule, appointments, and goals with his case manager, and living in a complex where other individuals who previously experienced homeless now live are all helping him to create the new life he’s been dreaming of for years.

“There are quite a few of us who are now housed, and we are friends,” said Mr. Callier. “[We] talk about the past and are determined not to go back. Although there was a community we built [on the streets], we are in a better place now and want to work hard to maintain this success.”

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Homeless Court
Homeless Court

If you were to ask Scot More, Program Analyst for the Coalition for the Homeless, what his favorite part of his job is, he will tell you without even batting an eye, “Homeless Court,” even though it only makes up about 10 percent of the work he does every day. As I sat down to do my usual staff spotlight interview for the month of May, Scot refused to let me highlight his personal accomplishments (this is no shock to anyone who knows him), but asked me to instead focus on a program that has been close to his heart for over 13 years.

What is Homeless Court?

Homeless Court is a special Court session for homeless defendants to resolve outstanding misdemeanor offenses and warrants within the City of Houston’s Municipal Courts. The idea for a homeless court system began in San Diego, California in 1989, and was adopted in the Houston area in 2006.

Homeless Court has been able to build partnerships between the courts, local emergency shelters and homeless service agencies, to help individuals experiencing homelessness resolve misdemeanor offenses without being taken into custody with alternative sentencing options.

Participants in Homeless Court sign up on a voluntary basis by requesting to be a part of the program through a local homeless service provider. Homeless Court addresses all class C misdemeanor offenses within the City of Houston. Some of these offenses could include – failure to pay bus fare, traffic
violations, or sleeping in a public park.

Alternative Sentencing

“A lot of people experiencing homelessness are afraid of the court system,” said Scot. “They don’t believe that they won’t go to jail until they actually go through the process.” Scot works as the Homeless Court liaison for the Coalition and says a lot of the time he is there mainly to help calm people’s nerves.

One of the biggest proponents of Homeless Court is that no participant will be taken into custody against their will. And this component is something every judge, defense attorney, prosecutor and homeless service agency has agreed on.

Scot says the biggest hurdle for clients is simply showing up. Once they are there, the judge will offer the participant an alternative sentencing option. Usually this sentence will be community service or activities in the shelter program in which the participant is enrolled in*. Each shelter has its own requirements for participants to access the Homeless Court program.

The three judges currently presiding over Homeless Court are Judge Leigh St. Germain, Judge Imelda Castillo, and Judge Grantham Coleman.

What Actually Happens During Homeless Court

This week I had the opportunity to observe a Homeless Court Docket at the City of Houston Municipal Court. When I arrived, many of the participants were already there, each meeting with Scot individually as he got them checked in and gave them any necessary documents. Presiding over this docket was Judge Castillo, with approximately 20 individuals scheduled to participate.

Before the session was started, Scot once again assured each person that the judge would be waiving all fees and ordering each person community service for the hard work they had done and would continue to do. Scot also provided additional resources for those who needed them.

Judge Castillo then began to call participants up one by one. For every person she called to the stand, she dug deeper than their record, and got to know them on a more personal level. Judge Castillo asked questions about how their programs were going, what their plans were for the future, and if they were happy with their current situation. She never treated any of the participants like they were a criminal but showed compassion for the fact that they had fallen on hard times and were trying their hardest to move forward.

“I have been presiding over Homeless Court dockets for about 11 years,” said Judge Castillo. “It is so incredibly rewarding to see people making positive changes to their lives and becoming more stable.” Judge Castillo says by waiving these types of fines or warrants, the participants have one less thing to worry about and it helps each of them become more productive citizens.

Dawn, one of the individuals who participated in this docket, says the amount of relief she feels is indescribable. “You have no idea what a weight this is off our shoulders,” said Dawn. “I can now go get my license renewed, which means I can finally go apply for jobs, and start the next chapter of my life.”

Without this crucial program we would be unable to continue our work of making homelessness rare, brief, and nonrecurring. 

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Organization Information

Coalition for the Homeless of Houston/Harris County

Location: Houston, TX - USA
Website:
Facebook: Facebook Page
Twitter: @homelessHOU
Project Leader:
Renee Cavazos
Houston, TX United States

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