On a given night in Houston, Harris and Fort Bend Counties, more than 5,000 people spend the night in a shelter or somewhere on the street, in a park or in places not meant for human habitation, according to a recent report. While several thousand more individuals and families throughout the year find themselves temporarily homeless – living in motels, doubling up with family members or couch surfing at friends’ homes. It is just a matter of time before the temporarily homeless have to choose between going to a shelter and sleeping on the streets.
There is a sub-cultural within the homeless population that has been dubbed Houston’s most vulnerable homeless population and they are called – the chronic homeless.
According to the Housing Urban and Development (HUD) (page 1, para. 2) definition, a chronic homeless person is: “a homeless individual or head of household with a disabling condition who has either been continuously homeless for a year or more or has had at least four (4) episodes of homelessness in the past three (3) years.” A disabling condition is defined as “a diagnosable substance use disorder, serious mental illness, developmental disability, or chronic physical illness or including the co‐occurrence of two or more of these conditions.”
As reported recently in the Houston Chronicle “Making Chronic Homelessness a Thing of the Past” (August 10, 2014), homelessness overall decreased in the region by 37 percent, with a 57 percent decrease in chronic homelessness and a 40 percent decrease in veteran homelessness in the past three years. The reason: Service providers matched 1,550 chronically homeless individuals and 2,245 veterans with permanent housing, coupled with the appropriate level of critical supportive services and resources to remain stably housed. The results have been nothing short of astounding in shedding a light on this important issue and helping reduce homelessness, especially when other major cities continue to watch their homeless populations rise.
Houston is one of the top leading metropolitan cities with a strategic plan to end chronic homelessness by the year 2016. Their efforts include an unprecedented collaboration between community organizations, city officials, religious entities, philanthropic communities, and social service providers. As a result, Houston has seen improved inter-agency communication, coordination and positive results from every homeless service provider in the region.
Using that ground work as the jumping-off point, the Continuum of Care publicly unveiled an aggressive action plan designed to end long-term homelessness in Houston, Harris County and Fort Bend County. The campaign blueprint, called The Way Home, has set a path to end chronic and veteran homelessness by 2016, end family and youth homelessness by 2020 and build a system in which no one has to live without permanent housing for more than 30 days.
Every day, without permanent housing for our most vulnerable homeless Houstonians, is a matter of life and death. But advocates behind a recently launched initiative believe ending long-term homelessness is not only feasible, but just a few years away. Three years prior to 2016, the Houston/Harris County Continuum of Care, supported by the Coalition for the Homeless of Houston and Harris County, led a major transformation. The focus shifted from helping people manage their homelessness to helping them end it by placing them in permanent supportive housing.
The Way Home provides a clear, focused, collaborative strategy for the community; and it is working. But, there is still more work to be done.
Thelisa Lavergne is a member of the Regional (Texas Gulf Coast) Navigator team for Workforce Solutions. She specializes in providing training and education to the Gulf Coast community, career staff offices, and employers in assisting individuals with disabilities. She brings with her over 10 years of experience and expertise working in the nonprofit industry serving Houston’s disadvantaged community; individuals and families experiencing homelessness, victims of domestic abuse, and individuals and families experiencing hunger. However, her greatest contribution to Workforce Solutions is her compassion, commitment, and dedication to serving others. She holds a M.A. in Organizational Management, a B.S. in Training and Development, B.S. in Counseling, and a Certification as a Personal Fitness Trainer.