Officials: Recent homeless count, permanent housing initiative may have saved thousands of unsheltered Harris County residents from cold

The Coalition for the Homeless and The Way Home conducted the 2021 Homeless Count and Survey from Jan. 19-29. (Courtesy the CKP Group)
The Coalition for the Homeless and The Way Home conducted the 2021 Homeless Count and Survey from Jan. 19-29. (Courtesy the CKP Group)

The Coalition for the Homeless and The Way Home conducted the 2021 Homeless Count and Survey from Jan. 19-29. (Courtesy the CKP Group)

While it is still too early to report exact numbers, thousands of unsheltered individuals in Harris County may have been saved from freezing temperatures this week thanks in part to two recent initiatives spearheaded by the Coalition for the Homeless and The Way Home.

The Coalition for the Homeless is a nonprofit that advocates for homeless individuals in the Greater Houston area and leads The Way Home, a network of more than 100 agencies that serve people experiencing homelessness in Harris, Fort Bend and Montgomery counties.

Since the winter storm first appeared on the radar, Coalition Communications Director Catherine Villarreal said the organization has been coordinating with the Harris County and city of Houston offices of emergency management to ensure a plan was in place to address the needs of unsheltered individuals experiencing homelessness. As a result of this coordination, more than a dozen warming centers opened throughout Harris County and the city of Houston for all individuals in need of refuge from the plummeting temperatures.

"The George R. Brown Convention Center was opened by the city of Houston as a warming center. We had, I think, over the course of the last several days almost 1,000 people present there," Villarreal said in a Feb. 17 interview. "It's important to note that not everybody there was literally homeless. ... There were other people who came there, perhaps because they lost power at their own homes and were seeking warmth, but I think that speaks to the fact that there was a need for the shelter, not just for people experiencing homelessness but for the broader community."

To get these individuals to warming centers, Villarreal said the Coalition and its partnering agencies through The Way Home worked with the Harris County Sheriff's Office and the Houston Police Department to dispatch homeless outreach teams to offer transportation in areas where unsheltered individuals are known to congregate. Villarreal said the Metropolitan Transit Authority of Harris County, or METRO, and Yellow Cab were also instrumental in this effort.


"I think that's part of how we were able to, fortunately, get a good number of folks off the streets," she said.

As previously reported by Community Impact Newspaper, the Coalition and The Way Home had just completed its annual 2021 Homeless Count and Survey from Jan. 19-29. Although the results of the count will not be released until this spring, Villarreal said because of the count, the outreach teams knew exactly where these hot spots were, which expedited the process and potentially saved more lives.

"We'd actually just done the count for 2021 a couple weeks ago ... [so] we had a pretty good idea of where there are people congregated experiencing unsheltered homelessness and were able to use those maps and that knowledge to send homeless outreach teams out," Villarreal said. "There's so many reasons we do the count, ... but I think that was really helpful information going into this [disaster] because we knew where people were that were going to need our help."

In addition to the annual count, Villarreal said the recent launch of the Community-wide COVID-19 Housing Program also gave the homeless assistance organizations a leg up in addressing the needs of homeless individuals throughout the winter storm. Known as CCHP, the $65 million initiative is a joint venture of Harris County, the city of Houston and the Coalition with the goal of providing permanent housing to 5,000 otherwise homeless individuals over the next two years. The plan was announced last summer and launched in October.

"Since then we have provided housing for more than 1,000 people and that was a mix of people who were sheltered and unsheltered but the majority of them were unsheltered—so that actually represents almost 1,000 people that would have been unsheltered [during this disaster] that are now in housing because of the CCHP program," Villarreal said. "When we were pitching this idea of permanent housing as a response to COVID, we were saying that the fewer people that we have living unsheltered, the more resilient we are in the next disaster; little did we know how soon that would be, and I think that has definitely proven to be true with this winter weather crisis."

While this week's focus for the Coalition and The Way Home has been sheltering those in need from the cold, Villarreal said the long-term goal is providing permanent housing—a goal on which the organizations are making headway through programs, such as the CCHP.

"Certainly, in this emergency situation, the goal was to get people out of the cold and keep them safe in these cold nights, but our long-term goals are to get people into permanent housing, and that's what we're all working together to do," Villarreal said. "The best thing that we can do is—rather than responding to emergencies—is make ourselves more resilient as a community by putting people in permanent housing so that there aren't people living on the streets when something like this happens."

With another night of freezing temperatures ahead for the Greater Houston area, Villarreal said she was confident in the coordinated efforts of the Coalition and The Way Home, as well as city and county entities, to provide shelter for those in need this week.

"We do not have all the numbers in yet. ... I think the fact that so many people experiencing homelessness were able to find shelter at [warming centers, such as] the George R. Brown Convention Center, is just wonderful and speaks to the collective effort of the city and the county and The Way Home agencies," Villarreal said. "I think it's probably a little bit premature to declare any sort of victory, as we're still in this, and we will learn more in the coming days, but I know we've certainly done everything we were able, and we feel confident about that."
By Hannah Zedaker
Born and raised in Cypress, Texas, Hannah Zedaker graduated from Sam Houston State University in 2016 with a bachelor's degree in mass communication and a minor in political science. She began as an intern with Community Impact Newspaper in 2015 and was hired upon graduation as a reporter for The Woodlands edition in May 2016. In January 2019, she was promoted to serve as the editor of the Spring/Klein edition where she covers Spring ISD and Harris County Commissioners Court, in addition to business, development and transportation news.


MOST RECENT

The Texas Department of State Health Services projects a significant shortage of nurses by 2032. (Courtesy Adobe Stock)
Q&A: Why Texas faces a growing nursing shortage and what can be done to address it

In 2018, the state health department estimated about 11% of the demand for nurses was not able to be met, and that number is expected to rise to 16.3% by 2032.

POPPS opened in its new, larger location in Old Town Spring at 216 Midway St., Spring, on April 29. (Courtesy POPPS)
Gourmet popcorn shop POPPS moves to larger space in Old Town Spring

The self-proclaimed "Purveyors of Perfect Popcorn" boast more than 30 varieties of small-batch, artisan popcorn with flavors ranging from dill pickle and barbecue bacon to caramel pecan and cinnamon red hot.

HTV
Houston, Harris County annual addresses no longer hosted by Greater Houston Partnership over Texas voter bill dispute

Local leaders criticized the area chamber of commerce for not taking a definitive stance on two voting access bills currently being deliberated in the Texas Legislature.

The new location is Chipotle's first in Magnolia. (Courtesy Chipotle Mexican Grill)
Chipotle opens in Magnolia; get a sneak peek of new Houston aquarium and more metro news

Read the latest business and community news from the Houston area.

The business specializes in customized in-home consultations during which families will receive a fire safety plan specific to their house's floor plan and an age-appropriate, individualized plan for each family member. (Courtesy Fire Smart, LLC)
Fire Smart, LLC celebrates one year of providing fire safety education across Greater Houston area

The business specializes in customized in-home consultations during which families will receive a fire safety plan specific to their house's floor plan and an age-appropriate, individualized plan for each family member.

The Houston Interactive Aquarium & Animal Preserve's marine building has sharks, turtles, stingrays, alligators, fish and eels. (Kelly Schafler/Community Impact Newspaper)
UPDATED: Houston Interactive Aquarium & Animal Preserve opening delayed as attraction awaits final approval, inspections

The Houston Interactive Aquarium & Animal Preserve will open off Beltway 8 in the Humble area.

Originally built in the early 1840s, the Martin Frank House is the oldest standing structure still in the Klein community, and is one of only two houses still sitting on its original foundation. (Courtesy Klein Historical Foundation)
Klein Historical Foundation hoping to raise $100K to relocate Martin Frank House to Wunderlich Farm Interactive History Park

Originally built in the early 1840s, the Martin Frank House is the oldest standing structure still in the Klein community, and is one of only two houses still sitting on its original foundation.

Harris County ESD 11 plans to hire 150 individuals to staff its new ambulance services. (Courtesy Cypress Creek EMS)
Harris County Emergency Services District No. 11 aims to hire 150 staff to launch new EMS

The district launched its hiring effort in late April and held a virtual job fair April 29-30 to attract candidates.

Nearly 4,000 cases of COVID-19 have been confirmed in Cy-Fair ISD during the 2020-21 school year. (Courtesy Adobe Stock)
80 COVID-19 cases confirmed in Cy-Fair ISD schools April 26-May 2

Nine staff members and 71 students on Cy-Fair ISD campuses tested positive for COVID-19 last week.

Dotson Healthcare Institute owner Nicole Dotson said the facility will hold its first accelerated phlebotomy course May 17. (Courtesy Dotson Healthcare Institute)
Dotson Healthcare Institute to provide phlebotomy training, offer certified nursing assistant courses

Owner Nicole Dotson said the facility will hold its first accelerated phlebotomy course May 17.

From left: James Golden has been named principal of Spring ISD, while Stacy Rodgers Smith will serve as principal of Spring ISD's Virtual Learning Academy and LeFredrick Smith will serve as principal of Ponderosa Elementary. (Courtesy Spring ISD)
Spring ISD names Stacy Rodgers Smith principal of Virtual Learning Academy, fills other key leadership roles

Spring ISD officials named Stacy Rodgers Smith the principal of the district's new Virtual Learning Academy via social media April 30.

The gumbo pie is a House of Roux original. (Courtesy House of Roux)
House of Roux coming soon; Charming Charlie now open: 18 Spring-Klein business updates readers may have missed in April

Several businesses have either recently opened or are coming soon, expanding or relocating in the Spring and Klein area.