By Mayor Annise Parker
During my second inaugural address, I indicated that Houston’s chronic homelessness problem would be a priority of my second term as your mayor. Much has been done in the last year and a half, but one accomplishment dearest to my heart is the progress we’ve made in housing our homeless veterans.
Last week marked the one-year anniversary of Housing Houston’s Heroes, an initiative that successfully housed and provided supportive services to 148 homeless veterans, including 101 chronically homeless veterans, in 100 days. The unprecedented collaboration among Houston’s homeless service providers continues to impact the lives of Houston’s homeless veterans such as U.S. Marine Corps veteran James Adams.
Adams moved into his new apartment in Southwest Houston on May 1, 2013 after being homeless for five years. He served in the Marines, and then was employed with NASA for 17 years as an aircraft mechanic. Family problems led to him becoming homeless but he says that his life is now on track. Adams is studying to be an electrician at Everest Institute and is expected to graduate this fall.
The best characterization of the impact of this program has had comes from Adams himself: “I got my own place and my self-esteem is coming back. Life has many challenges and sometimes it takes people a little longer to get back up when life knocks them down.”
The City of Houston is committed to working with homeless service providers to get more Houstonians off the streets.
This unprecedented effort shows what we can accomplish when agencies and organizations work together. We are literally changing lives and setting the pace for the rest of the nation when it comes to finding solutions for chronic homelessness.
Housing Houston’s Heroes has housed over 500 homeless individuals and families since May 29, 2012, including over 450 homeless veterans. The program is part of a comprehensive approach that also includes efforts to help the chronically homeless who are not vets.
During Houston Registry Week, over 160 volunteers, including myself, canvassed the streets of Houston for three days to identify, interview, and assess the City’s most vulnerable and expensive homeless individuals.
Volunteers used a comprehensive survey with 33 targeted questions to gather information on the individual’s health status, institutional history (jail, prison, hospital, and military), length of homelessness, patterns of shelter or mission use, and previous housing situations.
Volunteers administered a total of 963 surveys, identifying 847 unique homeless individuals, of which:
- 15 percent were females
18 percent were Veterans
48 percent suffered chronic health conditions
46 percent suffered mental health conditions
20 percent were victims of domestic violence
32 percent were victims of violent attacks since being homeless
34 percent were employed despite literally sleeping in the streets
The survey also collected information on the use of costly public systems, like emergency rooms and jails. Fifty (50) percent of the respondents identified the hospital as their primary source for healthcare with 964 visits to the emergency room in just the last three months alone, as well as 695 inpatient hospitalizations in the last year. Additionally, eighty-one (81) percent reported having been in jail, often for unpaid tickets.
Every year, chronic homelessness is costing us an estimated $103 million in public resources. However, now that we know our chronically homeless by their names, stories and needs, we can shift these vital resources to move them off the streets and into stable housing. This compassionate, community-driven plan will help our most vulnerable Houstonians while saving taxpayer money.
A comprehensive database containing the information gathered through Registry Week will be used by homeless outreach service providers to prioritize individuals for housing placement according to their vulnerability. Additionally, the database will be used to continue to identify, assess and assist those living on the streets until they are housed.
Outreach workers are already using the database to move homeless individuals into housing. The goal is to house 300 chronically homeless individuals within 80 days.
Houston Registry Week is part of the national 100,000 Homes Campaign – a grassroots movement of over 175 communities to find and place chronically homeless individuals into 100,000 homes across the nation.
Organizations participating in the Housing Houston’s Heroes include the U.S Department of Housing and Urban Development, U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, the City of Houston’s Office of Veteran Affairs, the U.S. and Houston Departments of Housing and Community Development, Harris County Housing Authority, Harris County Community Services Department, SEARCH, the Housing Corporation, Career and Recovery Resources, Inc., Catholic Charities, Goodwill Industries, Funders Together to End Homelessness, Continuum of Care, Neighborhood Centers, Inc., US Vets, Cloudbreak Communities, Healthcare for the Homeless, Mental Health and Mental Retardation Authority, the Houston Police Department and the Houston Coalition for the Homeless.