The greater Houston area is leading the nation in reducing homelessness, becoming the national model for other cities. Our Continuum of Care (CoC) was formalized in 2012 and launched The Way Home in 2014 to bring more than 70 partners together. With hurdles still ahead, we've comprehensively tackled homelessness and the results show tremendous progress has been made.
A key research indicator in solving homelessness is the annual Point-In-Time Homeless Count, a requirement of the US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) for the local CoC funding process. The Homeless Count provides agencies with hard data about the number and characteristics of the area's homeless community on a given night. This helps The Way Home further its work to right-size the homeless response system.
In previous years, the Homeless Count was conducted on a single evening; however, this year it grew into the Homeless Count & Survey to collect improved data. While the sheltered portion of the Count & Survey (and the official date) remained on a single night, the unsheltered portion took place over three days. Instead of counting by observation only, more than 200 surveyors from partner agencies and the community conducted brief, conversational surveys with individuals who slept on the street to assess their homeless status as well as their housing and service needs. This allowed Coordinated AccessHousing Assessments to be offered on the spot to those who were eligible.
Staff and volunteers from partnering agencies and community advocates conducted these efforts on foot. "It's always impactful to interact with those who are resistant to contact an agency and reveal themselves," a homeless services agency staff member advised.
These conversational interviews humanized the process. One volunteer recalled a conversation shared during the Count and stated, "I learned that a lack of services isn't always the barrier to getting off the streets. Some of [the] issue [is] 'brokenness within [the] heart'. This showed me that homelessness is a complex situation that is unique for each individual experiencing it."
One volunteer met a veteran who had been homeless for about two months. He was working full-time in a restaurant and was extremely open about his situation. "I was glad to see that he was already connected with SEARCH and was receiving services to end his homelessness," the volunteer said.
The Count & Survey is organized and led by the Coalition for the Homeless, in consultation with the University of Texas School of Public Healthand the City of Houston Department of Health and Human Services. The UT Public Health research team is analyzing the data and other factors received during the Count & Survey to produce the 2016 final report. Findings will be presented in late May/early June. Stay tuned!