Editor's note: The story has been updated to indicate there was a 5.8% increase in homelessness between 2021 and 2022 counts.

The Coalition for the Homeless’ annual homelessness count conducted Jan. 24 suggests pandemic response efforts may have helped keep rates of homelessness down in Harris, Fort Bend and Montgomery counties.

A March 16 news release from the coalition reported more than 3,200 people were experiencing homelessness during the January count, with about 1,700 in shelters and 1,500 who were unsheltered. Overall, the number of people experiencing homelessness rose 5.8% from the 2021 count, but the 2022 unsheltered and sheltered numbers both saw a decline from 2020 figures.

“We believe that we would've seen higher numbers, if not for the very successful community COVID[-19] housing program, CCHP program,” said Michael Nichols, president and CEO of the Coalition for the Homeless, during a virtual announcement March 16. “This program as you know is a housing-focused pandemic response that will allow our partners to rehouse 14,000 people experiencing homelessness from the fall of 2020 through 2024.”

How the count works

Due to the pandemic, 2021’s count results were difficult to compare to identify trends because of the use of different survey methods, Nichols said, but the coalition has since returned to its prior methods used up until 2020.

The coalition’s count expanded over 3,700 square miles, using volunteers to collect data for the unsheltered portion of the count, and for the sheltered portion, the coalition pulled directly from the homeless management information system, coalition officials said. The unsheltered portion of the count took place over three days from Jan. 25-27 with 480 volunteers interviewing anybody struggling with homelessness.

Maps were provided to volunteers for the areas they registered for to conduct interviews through the coalition’s "Counting Us" app.

“It's really important that everyone remembers that the interview locations may not necessarily be where people are residing but rather where they seek services,” said Ana Rausch, vice president of program operations, during the announcement. “Some of those county lines where people move from place to place trying to access resources may not be where they are sleeping at night.”

Decline during the pandemic

Homeless counts have dropped during the pandemic from nearly 4,000 in 2020. Overall, the number of people experiencing homelessness has declined 64% since 2011, according to data provided by the coalition.

“The number of people in shelter locations has continued to decrease since 2015, and the drop between 2020 to 2021 was steeper. A possible cause is that some emergency shelter providers decreased beds to make room for social distancing; many people were reluctant to enter shelters due to fear of contracting the virus,” Rausch said. “While the inventory reported by these communities did not decline, only 73% of reported beds were occupied on the night of the count compared with 83% in 2020.”

Rausch also contributed the success of maintaining low homeless numbers to putting the majority of the coalition’s funding toward permanent solutions, which helped place over 3,800 people into housing through the CCHP.

“[The] CCHP enabled the partners of The Way Home to place many more people in permanent supportive housing and rapid rehousing over a 12-month period compared to prior years,” Rausch said in the March 16 announcement.

Announced in July 2020, Phase 2 of the CCHP used American Recovery Plan Act dollars to help house 7,000 more clients and added more support to ensure more long-term successes.

“Many of the CCHP Phase 2 funds will be dispersed in May of this year,” Rausch said. “Although CCHP Phase 1 runs through September, CCHP Phase 2 investments will run concurrently for a small portion of time and then will start back up through the end of 2024.”