Canvass maps from past Homeless Count & Survey

Image: Meilin Hyde

HOMELESSNESS IN THE GREATER HOUSTON AREA IS ON THE DECLINE, according to the recently published 2019 Homeless Count & Survey coordinated by Houston’s Coalition for the Homeless.

Conducted on behalf of The Way Home Continuum of Care, the local homelessness response system made up of over 100 partner organizations, the Homeless Count & Survey takes place annually to provide important data to advocacy groups and the U.S. Dept. of Housing and Urban Development on the effectiveness of homeless support efforts in the area.

2019’s Count & Survey tallied a total of 3,938 people experiencing homelessness, which was the result of a canvass of the 3,711 combined square miles of Harris, Fort Bend, and Montgomery Counties between January 21 and 24 of this year. Of these individuals, 59 percent were found to be sheltered (in emergency shelters, transitional housing, or safe havens) compared to 41 percent who were unsheltered at the time of the Count.

County-level breakdown of sheltered vs. unsheltered homeless individuals from 2019 Homeless Count & Survey, performed by the Coalition for the Homeless.

This year’s data shows a 5 percent decrease in the total counted homeless population since 2018, which was the first time in seven years that saw homelessness in the area increase year over year due to the effects of Hurricane Harvey.

While the 2019 Count & Survey results show a promising decline in the area’s homeless population, the impact of Harvey can still be seen today, according to Eva Thibaudeau-Graczyk, Chief Program Officer of the Coalition for the Homeless.

“This year, still, one in nine folks are citing that Harvey is the reason that they’re still homeless,” said Thibaudeau-Graczyk.

Compared to 2011’s tally of 8,538 homeless individuals, there has been an encouraging 54 percent decrease in overall homelessness in the greater Houston area over the past eight years. Homelessness advocacy groups like The Way Home and the Coalition for the Homeless cite this data as proof that local programs designed to alleviate homelessness in recent years have been successful. According to The Way Home, their efforts have provided housing for over 17,000 people since 2012, and 90 percent of those housed by these programs had not fallen back into homelessness after two years.

Year-over-year homeless population data for Greater Houston area from 2011-2019 Homeless Count & Survey results.

“This year’s results show us that The Way Home’s programs work,” said Michael Nichols, interim president and CEO of the Coalition for the Homeless. Nichols continued by stating that Houston “is faring much better than other major cities in the U.S.” in terms of “quickly and effectively” housing those experiencing homelessness. Thibaudeau-Graczyk echoed Nichols’s claim, citing recent homelessness counts in New York City (approximately 78,000), Los Angeles (approximately 54,000), and Seattle (approximately 11,000).

Looking forward, the Coalition for the Homeless says that increasing the availability of affordable housing is a key priority in the continued fight against homelessness. Houston has plenty of room for improvement on this measure—the National Low Income Housing Coalition ranked Houston 47th out of the top 50 major metro areas in affordable housing availability, with only 19 units available for every 100 extremely poor families.

“We are really going to be looking to inform regional plans around affordable housing to make sure that the needs of those who are unstably housed or who are in and out of experiencing homelessness do not get left behind,” said Thibaudeau-Graczyk.

The official analysis of the 2019 Count was prepared by Dr. Cathy Troisi, associate professor at the University of Texas School of Public Health, in conjunction with the Coalition for the Homeless and The Way Home. Within, they explain that the Count isn’t able to provide a concrete total of the homeless population due to limitations in manpower, the huge geographic area being covered, and the fact that the amount of people experiencing homelessness can fluctuate over the course of any single day.

Instead, the Count is meant to provide a point-in-time data point that can be compared to others conducted in previous years to assess progress made over time. For the 2019 Count, sheltered homeless individuals were counted on the night of January 21, while the unsheltered homeless population was counted by canvassers in the three days between January 22 and 24.

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