Homelessness in the Greater Houston area is down 37 percent from 2011, but work is just beginning for the organization responsible for the reduction.

The Coalition for the Homeless of Houston/Harris County announced the launch of The Way Home campaign July 1 with the 2020 goal of ensuring that no one in Harris County is without permanent housing for longer than 30 days.

Coalition President and CEO Marilyn Brown said the image people conjure up when they think of homelessness only tells part of the story. The street-based population typically associated with homelessness are referred to as “chronic homeless.” There are around 2,500 of them in Houston.

However, about 27,000 homeless people fall into the “family homeless” category. These people might be living with a friend or at a motel, and their homelessness is often tied to economic hardship, such as the loss of a job or a medical bill.

“These people are not as visible and do not utilize as many public services, but if we don’t help them, they can fall into chronic homelessness,” Brown said.

The initiative involves eliminating chronic homelessness and veteran homelessness by Dec. 31, 2015, and family homelessness by Dec. 31, 2020. Since early 2012, people involved with the mission have been hitting the streets and talking face to face with homeless people in an effort to identify actual housing needs.

The initial push was funded with help from the federal government’s Homeless Emergency Assistance and Rapid Transition to Housing Act, which passed in 2009. Houston was identified as a priority community. Previously, organizations had been going about helping the homeless in the wrong way, Brown said.

“We have gotten really good at helping someone manage their way through a day of homelessness, but we got kind of settled into that,” she said. “The HEARTH Act said we needed to flip our thinking, to see a transformation of getting people housing and support. The decline we’ve seen shows it’s working.”

The coalition has taken an administrative role in managing The Way Home campaign, partnering with organizations around Houston. Among the partners are Cy-Fair Helping Hands and Northwest Assistance Ministries.

“In addition to housing, we also provide job training, financial coaching and seminars about fair housing and tenant rights,” NAM’s Rebecca Landes said.

Houston Mayor Annise Parker has estimated that the city spends around $103 million per year dealing with the chronic homeless population alone. By providing these individuals with housing and a support system, Brown said the city will save around $70 million.


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