The Coalition for the Homeless of Houston is conducting its annual count of people experiencing homelessness in Montgomery, Harris and Fort Bend counties.
Ana Rausch, the vice president of program operations, said the nonprofit has conducted the survey every year since 2009 and updated its methodology in 2011. She said the count is federally mandated by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to record the people staying in shelters or on the streets.
“We get the demographics, how long they’ve been homeless, etcetera,” Rausch said.
Rausch said coalition workers went to shelters to collect data of those staying in them Jan 27. For individuals on the street, teams will walk the streets, inspect underpasses and find homeless encampments and ask individuals where they were on Jan. 27.
“They go behind woods; they go behind buildings, on the side of the freeways if they’re seeing pets or sleeping bags,” Rausch said.
If surveyors have a trained housing assessor, Rausch said participants can be sent directly into the coalition's housing program.
Since 2011, Rausch said the coalition has seen a 54% decrease in homeless people overall. In 2019, the coalition counted a total of 3,938 homeless people, with 3,567 in Harris County, 298 in Montgomery County and 73 in Fort Bend County. In 2018, Rausch said the coalition found 18% of people were homeless due to Hurricane Harvey.
Montgomery County was not included in the count until 2017. Since 2017, homelessness in Montgomery County has risen 54%, though local nonprofits and officials have said that increase is not an extreme cause of concern.
“Aside from the effects of Hurricane Harvey, we’ve seen a steady decline in homelessness,” Rausch said.
Rausch said she does not expect an increase due to Tropical Depression Imelda or other 2019 floods as they did not have as “drastic” of an impact as Harvey. Other vulnerable groups such as unaccompanied minors, veterans or families have also seen a decrease in numbers of people living on the streets. The results of the count are typically released in the spring.
To help people experiencing homelessness, Rausch asked people not to give to panhandlers or homeless people on the street.
“If homeless individuals are able to get their needs met on the streets, then they don’t come in and engage with service partners, which makes it a little difficult to house them,” Rausch said.
She also said people can go The Way Home’s website at www.thewayhomehouston.org to volunteer, donate or help support.