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    Achieving a Houston Without Homelessness – It Can Be Done (Part 1)

    Over the course of a year, 36,000 men, women and children in our community will experience homelessness.  Who are they?  And how do they end up homeless?  Each person’s story is unique.  It might be job loss, domestic violence, mental illness, or drug addiction.  The reasons are varied, but there’s one common denominator – poverty.  For many individuals and families, they’re living paycheck to paycheck, and one unfortunate event – losing their job, a major illness in the family, a hurricane – pushes them over the brink and into homelessness.  Homelessness truly can happen to anyone.

    While growing up in the Heights, I saw homelessness firsthand, and it is an issue that speaks directly to my heart.  Because I felt called to do something about the issue, I joined the Board of SEARCH Homeless Services over 12 years ago.  Since that time, we have made tremendous progress reducing homelessness in our city.  Nevertheless, homelessness remains an important and timely issue in our community.  Because homelessness is a matter that affects us all, I wanted to provide you with some important information about this complex problem, how Houston is successfully addressing it, and how you can be part of the solution.   

    HOUSTON LEADING THE NATION IN REDUCING HOMELESSNESS

    Only seven years ago, Houston had one of the largest homeless populations in the country.  Today, we have been so successful in reducing our homeless population that Houston has become a model for the rest of the nation in how to address this challenging societal issue.  Over the last year, nearly 50 cities from around the world have visited Houston to see how we are making such great strides.

    While other major cities in Texas have struggled to reduce their homeless populations, Houston has made tremendous progress.  According to the 2017 Annual Point-in-Time-Count, there were 3,412 individuals experiencing homelessness on the night of the count, marking a remarkable 60% reduction in the number of people living on the streets or in shelters. 

    According to the recently-released results from the 2018 count, the number of homeless individuals in Houston increased - for the first time in seven years – to 4,143.  This increase was due in large part to the devastating impact of Hurricane Harvey on the homeless in our community.  This includes the formerly homeless who had already been housed and were displaced by Harvey, those who were homeless at the time of the storm, and those who were living on the edge of homelessness and were pushed over the brink. Nevertheless, homelessness is still down by more than half since 2011.

    Despite the setbacks caused by Hurricane Harvey, Houston continues to stand strong and forge ahead.  We are on track to end chronic homelessness later this year.  Having already effectively ended veteran homelessness in 2015, we will next focus on ending family and youth homelessness by 2020 and then setting a path to ending all homelessness. 

    HOUSTON’S APPROACH TO ENDING HOMELESSNESS

    How has Houston been so effective in reducing homelessness?

    Collaboration!  The key players who serve the homeless have come together as a community-wide system known as The Way Home.  Thanks to this unprecedented collaboration among homeless service providers, public agencies, and philanthropic leaders, along with major investments in supportive housing, our community has been able to make such great progress. 

    We also changed our approach and are working to solve the problem of homelessness, not just manage it.  We’ve learned that Housing First - permanent housing combined with supportive services - is the key to ending homelessness.  Imagine trying to turn your life around without a place to call home, without a base of operations.  The Housing First model is based on the premise that stable housing is the first step on a path toward self-sufficiency.  Those who are homeless need a home as a starting point to stabilize their lives and address the issues that contributed to their homelessness. Once individuals have a safe place to call home and no longer must worry about meeting their daily needs, they are able to focus on improving their health and getting back to work. 

    SEARCH Homeless Services has been a leader and key player in The Way Home, serving many vital roles for the City.  SEARCH helps those who are homeless every step of the way from the streets into housing and ultimately back to self-sufficiency.  Once clients are placed in a stable home, SEARCH provides extensive case management and wrap-around supportive services to help them increase their income, improve their health, stabilize their lives, and successfully remain housed.

    THE SUDDEN APPEARANCE OF TENT CITIES

    If Houston has made so much progress in reducing homelessness, why does the problem appear to be worse than ever?  While we have drastically reduced homelessness, those that remain on the streets are more concentrated and visible than ever before.  Historic improvements to Houston’s downtown and Buffalo Bayou have changed the landscape of our city, leaving those who are homeless with fewer places to hide.  Having housed more than 15,000 individuals since 2012, those who remain on the streets are among the hardest cases to address, and they face major complex barriers to being housed.  Finally, well-meaning citizens have provided our homeless neighbors with tents, giving them a home of sorts and a sense of permanence where they are. 

    Despite appearances to the contrary, rest assured that SEARCH and The Way Home are continuing to reduce homelessness here.   SEARCH staff have been focusing heavily on the encampments around Downtown.  With time, patience, and persistence, they are helping many more individuals move from the streets into homes and stable, self-sufficient lives. 

    Please stay tuned for the second part of this article which will look at how SEARCH is working to break the cycle of poverty and homelessness by investing in the next generation at our House of Tiny Treasures preschool serving children whose families have been impacted by homelessness.  In the meantime, for more information, to get involved, or to make a donation, please contact Sondee Hatcher, Vice President of Development, at or 713-276-3065 or shatcher@searchhomeless.org.

    SEARCH Homeless Services has been chosen as one of the benefactors of the IREM Houston’s Fashion Fundraiser, scheduled for October 25, 2018.

     

    About the Authors: 

    Steve Jackson is the founding partner and CEO of E3 Electric, Ltd., which is a long-time IREM Houston Industry Partner. Steve serves on the IREM Houston Public Policy Committee who is monitoring Houston’s homeless landscape. He is a board member for SEARCH Homeless Services as well as for the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo.

    Sondee Hatcher has been with SEARCH Homeless Services since 2015.  As the Vice President of Development, Sondee oversees all aspects of fundraising at SEARCH.  SEARCH is one of the leading organizations in Houston helping those who are homeless move from the streets into jobs, homes, and stable lives.  SEARCH relies heavily on generous community support to fulfill its mission of providing hope, creating opportunity, and transforming lives for the thousands of men, women, and children experiencing homelessness in our community. 

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