How Houston’s homeless strategy became a model for other US cities

(SMARTCITIES) Danielle McLean, December 17, 2022

Over the course of a decade, Houston reduced its alarmingly high homeless population by 63%. Now, other major cities are reaching out for guidance.

Just a decade ago, Houston had the sixth largest homeless population in the country, with about 8,500 people identified as being homeless on a given night in 2011, according to its annual point-in-time count. 

The following year, Houston was one of 10 communities designated as a priority city by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, a designation that indicated to city officials that “we need to get our act together on homelessness,” said Marc Eichenbaum, a special assistant to Houston’s mayor for homeless initiatives.

That designation also came with “invaluable” technical assistance funding, Eichenbaum said. Under then-Mayor Annise Parker, the city held a three-day community meeting with over 400 people — elected officials, community leaders, people with lived experience, service providers and concerned citizens — on how to address the issue, he said. 

Houston worked with surrounding county governments, various community stakeholders and nonprofit service providers to develop a model that, despite operating with a small budget, has decreased the area’s homeless population by roughly 63% since 2011, according to a recent city report. The area has experienced an 82% reduction in family homelessness and a 69% reduction in chronic homelessness in that period, Eichenbaum said. And by 2015, it had effectively ended veteran homelessness

Since 2012, the Houston model has housed over 26,000 people, with 90% of them remaining housed for two or more years, according to Eichenbaum.

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, HUD point-in-time data showed that no other major U.S. metro area had matched Houston’s success in addressing homelessness over the past decade. The greater Houston area saw a 53% decrease in its homeless population between 2011 and 2020. During that time, the homeless population in the city and county of Los Angeles grew by 84%, New York City by 52%, and Dallas by 26%.

Source: Smartcities