Community COVID Housing Program- 5,000 Home

by Coalition for the Homeless of Houston/Harris County
Community COVID Housing Program- 5,000 Home
Community COVID Housing Program- 5,000 Home
Community COVID Housing Program- 5,000 Home
Community COVID Housing Program- 5,000 Home
Community COVID Housing Program- 5,000 Home
Community COVID Housing Program- 5,000 Home
Community COVID Housing Program- 5,000 Home
Community COVID Housing Program- 5,000 Home
Community COVID Housing Program- 5,000 Home
Community COVID Housing Program- 5,000 Home

Encampments aren’t safe or healthy places — least of all for the people living in them.

The Community COVID Housing Program (CCHP) is our region’s $65-million plan to serve 5,000 people experiencing homelessness over the next two years to limit the spread of COVID-19. This program has given the Coalition the additional resources to develop and implement a coordinated plan to address unsheltered homelessness by helping people living encampments move into permanent housing.
Working with several partners of The Way Home and local law enforcement, the Coalition’s outreach and project management teams have been able to draw on years of knowledge regarding what does — and doesn’t — work to house people living in encampments.
Over the past year, the Coalition and its partners have been able to decommission six different encampments throughout the City of Houston and Harris County. Contrary to a common misconception, people in encampments will, more often than not, accept permanent housing when it is offered to them. The proof: over 200 people were living in these encampments, and the majority of them are now residing in permanent housing! 
The Coalition’s staff has played a key leadership role on this encampment initiative. Decommissioning encampments is a community response that uses a system strategy of coordination across multiple partners and jurisdictions. The Coalition has convened public and elected officials and secured access to system resources to ensure that the tools are available to quickly move people out of encampments and into permanent housing. 
This work caught the attention of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, which commissioned a consultant to work with the Coalition’s staff to study our process for addressing encampments and create a “how-to” guide for other cities to follow our example. We are proud to be leading this innovative work that has propelled Houston back into the national spotlight on creative and effective ways to address homelessness. Click here to read the guide. 

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On July 1, 2020, the City of Houston, Harris County, and the Coalition for the Homeless announced a joint $65-million plan called the Community COVID Housing Program (CCHP), which will serve 5,000 people experiencing homelessness over the course of two years in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

This four-part series, CCHP Explained, will dive into how we are serving those individuals and families through our COVID response: two permanent housing programs (Bridge to Permanent Supportive Housing and Rapid Re-housing), one new pilot intervention (Diversion), and four additional programs (Auxiliary/Social Distancing Emergency Shelters, Mental Health Case Management, Enhanced Street Outreach, and Permanent Supportive Housing Preservation). 
 
Over the past four weeks, we’ve been thrilled to share with you this innovative program. This work could not be done without the dedicated collaboration between our many private and public partners. Our region is proud to be leading the way in innovation for ending homelessness and responding to the pandemic. Today, join us for the last entry in our series as we dive into the four additional programs that round out the CCHP by accelerating access to permanent housing.

Auxiliary/Social Distancing Emergency Shelters

The shelters in The Way Home- CoC,  work hard to offer safe accommodations to as many people experiencing homelessness as possible. At the onset of COVID, social distancing guidelines added an extra challenge in keeping individuals safe. In the interest of the health and safety of clients and staff, shelters had to decrease capacity.

 

Emergency shelters helped curb the spread of COVID amongst people living in these congregate settings. Two auxiliary/social distancing emergency shelters—one men’s shelter operated by The Salvation Army of Greater Houston and a women’s shelter operated byCatholic Charities—were established following CDC guidelines. These shelters replaced some of the beds lost in other shelters due to decreased capacity and gave our existing shelters more space to allow for proper social distancing.

 

Housing assessments are also done for those staying in the emergency shelters, getting them on the waitlist for the right permanent housing program for them. Thanks to increased resources provided by the CCHP, including our Bridge Permanent Supportive Housingand Rapid Re-housing programs, many people from these social distancing emergency shelters are being permanently housed. 

 

Mental Health Case Management

 

Case managers work with clients who have been permanently housed to help them acclimate to their new life, including connecting them to resources like income or food. Thanks to the CCHP, it also means connections to mental health supports. 


Some clients have acute mental health crises or pre-existing disabilities that can make it challenging to maintain housing. The CCHP has provided resources for a new team administered through our local mental health authority, The Harris Center. These teams provide intensive, hands-on behavioral and mental health supports to the clients we serve who may be experiencing a mental health crisis. 


If the client is willing to participate, a case manager can submit a referral to The Harris Center. The Harris Center can then conduct a consultation and determine what mental health social services, if any, are most appropriate for the client. 


These services are designed to increase residential stability, help people remain off the streets, and help them maintain their connections to care. They are open to all housing programs and are only contingent on whether the client wants to participate. 

 

Enhanced Street Outreach

 

Enhanced Street Outreach are additional outreach teams we added to make sure we have full coverage throughout our Continuum of Care. Thanks to the CCHP, we have been able to expand homeless outreach to those living unsheltered outside of the inner-city core and into unincorporated Harris County. This team, employed by the Coalition, moves outside the walls of the agency to engage with people experiencing homelessness who may be disconnected from mainstream services and supports. Outreach teams provide on-the-spot assistance, assessments, and referral to housing.

 

 

The Coalition’s outreach team has also been able to tackle encampments thanks to additional CCHP resources. The Coalition for the Homeless, City of Houston, Harris County, and other partners have worked together to decommission five encampments so far in 2021. All individuals residing at these encampments have been offered a housing option, and the most of them have now been housed in one of our permanent housing programs. 


Thanks to the success we have seen in these five decommissions, the Coalition is developing Encampment Response Practice Standards. This project will document effective encampment decommissioning results as a national best practice and define strategy for ongoing encampment work. 

 

Permanent Supportive Housing Preservation

Permanent Supportive Housing Preservation was put in place to ensure that individuals housed prior to COVID did not see any of their housing or services disrupted at such a precarious time. CCHP resources were able to preserve these PSH units. Permanent Supportive Housing preservation was offered to all existing PSH providers. 

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For the past thirty-five years, Susanne has dedicated her life to two things: taking care of her home and her family. Born and raised in New York, Susanne and her family moved to Texas about 13 years ago. It was here that Susanne had to leave everything she has ever known behind and start over for the sake of her safety and her life.

Susanne was once a happily married woman; however, over the years her husband grew increasingly violent. Susanne sought help from therapists and doctors, but it wasn’t until one of them provided her with the crisis phone line to the Houston Area Women’s Center (HAWC) that she truly understood the severity of her situation and learned that there was help available for her.

Following years of emotional and physical violence from her spouse, Susanne fled her home and sought help from HAWC.

Leaving her home and trusting strangers to help her wasn’t easy. Initially it was terrifying, but Susanne felt relieved after walking into HAWC’s doors and being able to sleep through the night for the first time in over three years. Because of the staff at the HAWC shelter, Susanne finally felt safe and free of the violence that had enveloped her life.

Susanne’s advice to domestic violence survivors – click the link to listen!

After allowing Susanne some time to settle, HAWC contacted the Coalition for the Homeless, lead agency to The Way Home Continuum of Care, to conduct a coordinated access housing assessment for Susanne. Brandon Oliver, senior outreach associate with the Coalition for the Homeless, was able to enroll Susanne into the newly established Community COVID Housing Program (CCHP).

CCHP is a $65M housing-focused pandemic response that will serve approximately 5,000 people experiencing homelessness by fall 2022. 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 are eligible to receive permanent housing through CCHP.

Once referred to housing through CCHP, Susanne was partnered with The Salvation Army of Greater Houston and case manager Kiley Martens. Susanne constantly refers to Kiley as her “angel” from The Salvation Army, as both she and Kiley worked diligently to get her out of the shelter and into a home to call her own. Thanks to the additional resources provided by the CCHP, Kiley found a home for Susanne within only a couple of weeks.

Susanne’s introduction to The Salvation Army of Greater Houston – click the link to listen!

Although Susanne has not yet moved into her new home, she explained all the feelings she has about having a place to call her own: Relief that she is no longer in an abusive home and relationship — and that she can now give up her bed at HAWC for the next woman who is strong enough to seek help. Gratitude for HAWC, The Salvation Army of Greater Houston, and the Coalition for implementing programs like CCHP to help people experiencing homelessness and help others to safely navigate out of violent situations. And excitement to start a new life, in a home to call her own, free from violence, and free to help others who, like her, were in an unfortunate situation.

Susanne’s gratitude for the system – click the link to listen! 

Susanne’s story started with her seeking help; because she was strong enough to flee a violent situation and reach out to the resources available to her, she was able to change her life through CCHP and with the help of our partners

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Housing is one of the primary social determinants of health. Increasing access to housing for people experiencing homelessness improves health outcomes and reduces healthcare costs. If we want to live in a community that is physically and mentally healthy, we need a community that is housed. 

Mental and Physical Benefits of a Home

When people have access to safe, affordable housing, their mental and physical health improves for many reasons:

  • Protection from exposure to outdoor elements
  • Stress levels reduce dramatically
  • Access to preventative physical and mental healthcare
  • Access to medication and proper medication storage
  • More stable personal and sexual relationships
  • Regular schedules mean more regular meals and nutrition
  • Access to personal hygiene and sanitation

COVID-19 and Homelessness

In the context of the global pandemic, the belief that housing is healthcare has become even more critical. Without a safe and decent home, people cannot comply with recommendations on how to slow the spread of the virus. People experiencing homelessness also run a higher risk of contracting COVID and if they do, they have a high risk of complications or even death. 

COVID-19 is not only a significant threat to those already experiencing homelessness; rises in unemployment, an unsteady economy, and the eviction moratoriumcurrently scheduled to end at the end of 2020 mean that many in our community may be on the verge of homelessness.  

And studies have shown that even housing instability (trouble paying rent or mortgage, overcrowding, moving frequently, staying with relatives, or spending the bulk of household income on housing) increases the odds of negative health outcomes. This type of housing instability can lead to depression, anxiety, poor health, and food insecurity. 

he Coalition for the Homeless and The Way Home Continuum of Care believe that we can most effectively help people experiencing homelessness by following the Housing First approach. This approach prioritizes providing permanent housing to individuals experiencing homelessness. Housing First operates on the belief that only after receiving access to safe, secure housing can a person attend to other needs such as finding employment and stabilizing their life.  

This also means that people can focus on attending to their mental or physical health issues. If we continue to prioritize a safe home for people experiencing homelessness, we remove many of the barriers they may have previously faced when attempting to access healthcare.  

Medicaid Expansion

Supportive housing is a non-clinical driver of improved health outcomes. Due to the proven physical and mental health benefits of supportive services in permanent housing, Medicaid expansion allows nonprofits to create sustainability for these services by billing them to Medicaid. 

To date, most states in the country have elected to expand Medicaid. Texas has yet to expand Medicaid, something many homeless advocates speak out against. Lack of expansion means valuable, available federal funds (perhaps as much as $5.4 billion) are not making their way into our communities. Far too many dollars are being left on the table that could be used to provide supportive housing for members of our community.

What we can do? 

In response to COVID-19, the City of Houston, Harris County, and the Coalition for the Homeless announced a joint, $65-million plan to serve 5,000 people experiencing homelessness over the next two years. The Community COVID Housing Program (CCHP) will work to limit the spread of COVID-19 by permanently housing people who are currently experiencing literal homelessness as well as those who may fall into homelessness as a result of the economic effects of the coronavirus.

Over the next two years, we look forward to housing more members of our community and therefore prioritizing their physical and mental well-being. We know that the key to a healthy region is a housed region. To learn more about the CCHP, visit our website

 

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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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