In a January 2018 survey of the homeless count in Montgomery, Fort Bend and Harris counties, 18% of unsheltered individuals, or 290 people, cited Harvey as the cause of their homelessness, according to The Coalition for the Homeless of Houston/Harris County, a nonprofit. In January 2019, there were still 190 homeless individuals who cited this reason, said Sara Martinez, the coalition’s director of development and communications.
“People who were … [living in] unstable housing or couchsurfing … are not eligible [for Federal Emergency Management Agency funding],” Martinez said. “Not having access to that funding for an already vulnerable population just makes their recovery that much more difficult.”
Increasing rent has made it harder for low-income residents to find affordable housing, she said.
Following the storm, the average apartment rent across the nine ZIP codes that make up Spring and Klein jumped from $956 in June to $981 in September and continued to climb for nearly one year, according to ApartmentData.com, a site that tracks occupancy and rental rates. In July of this year, the number hit $1,031.
“Even if they weren’t affected by Harvey, they saw their rent go up, and many of them couldn’t afford the increase,” said Brian Carr, chief advancement officer of Northwest Assistance Ministries, a social service agency. “That actually put more people out on the street.”
Some Harvey victims are still living in flood-damaged homes they cannot afford to repair, which puts them at risk for respiratory and other health issues due to mold, Carr said.
“We’re estimating there’s still tens of thousands of homes in [Northwest Houston] that still need some sort of repair post-Harvey,” he said. “There’s still families living upstairs while the bottom floor is being repaired or has roof leaks that haven’t been repaired.”
According to a February update by the Hurricane Harvey Registry, a collection of surveys completed by Greater Houston-area residents, about 25% of the 13,500 survey respondents reported headaches and migraines, 20% reported shortness of breath and 10% said that they experienced skin rashes following Harvey.
Carr said families have also said they are experiencing post-traumatic stress during storms and heavy rain.
“To many of these families, it is going to be a lifelong struggle to recover,” Carr said.
For some, the effects of Harvey were irreversible.
Debbie Johnson, president of Hope Center Houston, a homeless day center on FM 1960, said she tried to save the life of a man who became homeless after Harvey and died earlier this year from exposure. Other homeless individuals are still unaccounted for.
“We had a number of folks … that were camped along Cypress Creek, and we never saw them again after Harvey,” Johnson said. “We don’t know what happened to them.”