Number of unsheltered homeless along Hwy. 290 corridor on the rise

Homelessness in Harris County has increased over recent years, according to data compiled by Harris County's consolidated plan, which outlined the projected growth and challenges of the region from 2008–12.

Unemployment and low job growth, along with economic and social problems, have contributed to the rise in numbers in the past, according to the report.

However, in spite of negative economic factors, there was a slight decrease in homelessness from 2011 to 2012, said Gary Grier, director of community engagement at the Coalition for the Homeless of Houston and Harris County. Although there was a decline in the total number of homeless in the county, there were increased numbers of unsheltered homeless along the Hwy. 290 corridor, he said.

"We have over 100 clients on our roster that we see regularly along this corridor," said Jean Dryer, executive director of Cy–Fair Helping Hands, a program poised to assist the homeless in the area between Bingle Road and Cypress–Rosehill. "We see new people every week. The homeless are in this area for the same reasons that most of us are: they grew up here, they lived here before they became homeless, they had jobs here, they feel safer here than in more populated areas and they don't want to live in large groups."

According to Cy–Fair Helping Hands, a majority of the homeless in the area live in groups with two to five people. The program performs outreach for unsheltered homeless twice a week and works with Houston First Church of God, which provides weekly hot meals, showers, clothes and guidance every Thursday.

"Certainly homelessness is a complex problem with multiple causes," Grier said. "The key to solving homelessness is understanding who is homeless." Unsheltered homeless, or those living on the streets, in parks or in vehicles, differ from sheltered homeless living in temporary housing, motels or with relatives.

Grier said an increase in the number of permanent supportive housing units—which combine housing and services to help the economically disadvantaged—may have led to the recent decline in homeless numbers.

"PSH units are one proven housing intervention that helps chronic homeless persons immediately exit homelessness," he said. "There is some evidence that the community planning and coordination process is decreasing the number of homeless persons. There are a number of outreach and day service programs that assist homeless persons, but do not provide overnight shelter or housing."

Permanent supportive housing and rapid re-housing—which are typically run by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development—are two programs that aim to abate the number of unsheltered homeless throughout the city and have proven sucessful locally and nationally, Greir said. However, there are currently no PSH units serving the Cy–Fair area or Hwy. 290 corridor.