The FAMCare Blog

The Way Home

Posted by GVT Admin on Apr 17, 2024 3:00:36 PM


While other major American cities continue to see their homeless populations grow relentlessly, over the past dozen years Houston has driven down its homeless population by 64%, including a 17% reduction just last year. There used to be 8,500 people on the streets on any given night, but now Houston’s homeless population stands at 3,200, with all but 1,200 of them in shelters. What has changed? What did Houston do differently to solve a homeless problem that plagued the city for thirty years? What can other great cities across the country learn from the Houston response model?


When the Houston Mayor and other civic authorities took a close look at their homeless problem, they discovered that people may have great reasons to give money to help veterans or children aging out of foster care, but the reality in Houston, as in many other jurisdictions, is that the vast majority of the homeless population is made up of single men of color. Making real progress in reducing homelessness meant addressing their needs because there was little sympathy or financial support for that population.

  • For example, Texas spends almost no money on homelessness, devoting just 7% as much to its major homelessness programs as California does, ($806 per homeless person versus $10,786).
  • Houston itself devotes no general fund dollars to homeless programs, while Harris County puts in just $2.6 million a year, and only for the past couple of years.

Houston's turnaround funding success for its homeless population began with a change in public policy and a new cooperative effort with 100 different nonprofits.

  • Houston’s emphasis is on getting people into their own individual apartments. Thanks to $25 million a year in federal funding from COVID-19 programs, Houston was able to house an additional 12,000 homeless individuals over the last three years. 90% of them are still in those homes one year later. That costs roughly $18,000 a year, per person. On the other hand, letting people stay on the streets costs $50 to $75,000 between jail time, emergency room visits and the rest.
  • The Houston Endowment, the largest local philanthropy, gave $15 million in grants to the Coalition for the Homeless and three other nonprofits as a “call to action,” says Ann Stern, its president. “If we don’t keep building on the gains we’ve had, shame on us, because we know what to do.”

Coordination and Cooperation

Houston has accomplished something practically no other jurisdiction has done. It has created a cooperative system to combat homelessness. Not that long ago, Houston and Harris County, their housing agencies and dozens of separate nonprofit groups barely spoke to one another about what they were trying to accomplish.

"What I found, and I think this happens in most cities, is we have a lot of great organizations and agencies doing important work in very narrow areas, and they’re operating in parallel to each other but not converging on the problem. I used a lot of political capital to push people into making a more coherent system. Now, the working relationship between the city and the county in addressing homelessness could not be better,” said then Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner. “Instead of a hundred NGOs competing with each other, we’ve kind of pulled them all together. They’re now operating under a single umbrella, The Way Home.

Coalition for the Homeless

The Coalition for the Homeless is the lead agency for The Way Home, a collective effort to address homelessness that involves Houston, Harris County, two neighboring counties and no fewer than 100 separate nonprofits. Close coordination among all these independent agencies has become a habit, with duplication and wasted effort, to an impressive extent, wrung out of the process. To receive most federal funds, metropolitan areas must adopt a model known as Continuum of Care (CoC) — a community wide plan to deliver services to homeless people. In theory, that means there should be coordination everywhere.

The Way Home

Houston adopted the Housing First Model — getting people into housing without first worrying about whether they were sober or had met other criteria to qualify. As things stand in Houston now, a group like SEARCH will do intake and determine whether a person is eligible for housing or other programs. Their information is entered into a database that presents the case manager with a dashboard of options, much like booking a flight on Kayak or Expedia. If the person is eligible, they’re sent over to whatever nonprofit has a bed available — and that nonprofit must take them in.

Beyond Houston

Houston has become a sort of Mecca for officials from other cities looking for strategies to fight homelessness, receiving visits from the mayors of Chicago, New York and Los Angeles, among multiple other jurisdictions. Dallas and Collin County, which employed architects of the Houston approach as consultants, saw their chronic homeless population fall by 32% over the past year.



Topics: Homeless & Food Pantry

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