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06/02/2014 - Houston Drives Down Homelessness 37% through Community Collaboration and Housing First Approach

Houston has reduced homelessness by 37 percent since 2011, city and community leaders just announced, attributing the extraordinary achievement to an unprecedented level of collaboration and synergy among public and private organizations to realize the objectives of the Federal strategic plan to end homelessness.

“We are on the right path! Our Housing First strategy of creating permanent accommodations with robust supportive services is working,” Houston Mayor Annise Parker said of the strategy undergirding the approach to ending homelessness in the city. “Moreover, the coordinated team-effort of over 60 different organizations aligning their resources and efforts is working!”

With university, city health and human services and county support, Houston’s Coalition for the Homeless conducted a federally mandated point-in-time (PIT) estimate of the number of people without a safe and stable home on Jan. 30, 2014, and found that there were 3,187 fewer people experiencing homelessness than in previous counts. In 2011, the PIT count determined 8,538 people were experiencing homelessness on a single night in January. In 2012, 7,356. In 2013, 6,359 and in the most recent count, 5,351. 

Embedded in those numbers is an overall 22 percent reduction in Veterans experiencing homelessness between 2013 and 2014. About 15 percent of all the people counted were identified as chronically homeless; the 2014 count showed a 33 percent decline in individuals identified as such.

Read details of Houston’s January 2014 PIT count. 

Houston began working with HUD, Veterans Affairs and community partners to improve the City's Homeless Management Information System, develop a coordinated assessment system and conduct a thorough analysis of how to get from the city’s transitional housing focus to one that implemented a permanent supportive Housing First approach. A steering committee of the city’s Continuum of Care guided decision-making and funding. 

Houston’s success comes as it and other cities embrace an evidence-based best practices approach for solving homelessness that focuses on permanent housing outcomes and eliminates barriers to housing. New Orleans, for example, has reduced Veteran homelessness by 43 percent and chronic homelessness by 30 percent since its 2011 PIT count.  Likewise Phoenix and Salt Lake City have achieved tremendous progress toward ending Veteran homelessness through similar public-private partnerships.

A significant driver in the numbers Houston has experienced is the impressive growth of people moving into permanent supportive housing.  From 2011 to 2014, that figure has increased by 81 percent, and the Coalition says this data show the effectiveness of targeting vulnerable and individuals identified as chronically homeless first for permanent housing support. 

Mandy Chapman Semple, Special Assistant for Homeless Initiatives to Mayor Parker recently told the Council that Houston is expecting to end homelessness among Veterans in 2014, one year ahead of the national goal

“We’ve built a system that can house individuals within a 30-day period with a strong retention in their permanent housing,” she said.

For more on how Houston accomplished these results, read Semple’s expert brief, Houston: Connecting Mainstream Systems to a Housing First Homeless Response Strategy.

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