How Houston Moved 25,000 People From the Streets Into Homes of Their Own

  • How Houston Moved 25,000 People From the Streets Into Homes of Their Own, (behind paywall) Michael Kimmelman.

    “Chronic homelessness” is a term of art. It refers to those people, like many in the Houston encampment, who have been living on the streets for more than a year or who have been homeless repeatedly, and who have a mental or physical disability. Nationwide, most of those who experience homelessness do not fall into that narrow category. They are homeless for six weeks or fewer; 40 percent have a job… There are at the same time many thousands of mothers and children, as well as couch-surfing teenagers and young adults who are ill-housed and at risk. These people are also poor and desperate. Finding a place to sleep may be a daily struggle for them. They might be one broken transmission or emergency room visit away from the streets. They’re in the pipeline to homelessness. But they are not homeless according to the bureaucratic definition…

    Eradicating homelessness would involve tackling systemic racism, reconstituting the nation’s mental health, family support and substance abuse systems, raising wages, expanding the federal housing voucher program and building millions more subsidized homes… Five states — California, New York, Florida, Washington and Texas — now account for 57 percent of the people experiencing homelessness. Not coincidentally, it is worst in those big cities where affordable housing is in short supply, the so-called NIMBYs are powerful, and the yawning gap between median incomes and the cost of housing keeps growing…

    It may seem surprising that, of all cities, Houston — built on a go-it-alone oil business culture — decided to tackle homelessness by, in effect, collectivizing its homeless relief system… The vast majority of the 50,000 people in the Houston area who sought some type of homelessness service in 2021 did not qualify for an apartment… There are critics of rapid rehousing who contend it’s just kicking the can down the road…

    As elsewhere, giant investment firms like Blackstone have been gobbling up housing stock, pricing out middle-class and lower-income residents. Making matters harder, eviction filings in Harris County are now soaring: they’re higher than they were before the pandemic…

    Nearly a year after watching people being moved out of the encampment in the underpass, that was still the city’s message and I still had a lot of questions. I wondered about the uncounted couch-surfing families and youth; about the underpaid, overtaxed caseworkers who cannot provide enough help; about the landlords refusing to house tenants with vouchers, and people like Ms. Harris and her daughter, Blesit, judged not quite desperate enough for more permanent housing.

    But mostly I wondered what individuals would extract from Houston’s example. Homelessness is a calamity millions reckon with each day — a calamity provoking a mix of rage, fear and powerlessness in the housed and unhoused alike. For me, the big reveal after a year was not that Houston had solved the problem. It hasn’t. There is no one-time fix to homelessness….

    The other day, I talked to Ms. Harris on the phone… she has no housing voucher, and her lease will expire at the end of July unless she can come up with the $886 a month the continuum now pays in rent… Ms. Harris is housed. But she isn’t home yet. READ MORE (behind paywall) (Posted in Housing/Homelessness)

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