Houston-area homelessness down slightly, especially in key group

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Final numbers from this year’s count of the homeless showed a decrease of 6 percent in the Houston area. The dip is smaller than in recent years but local leaders point to success among an important, hard-to-reach demographic: the chronically homeless.

The regional Coalition for the Homeless said the relatively smaller decrease is not cause for concern. Instead they celebrated that the count in January found fully 60 percent fewer people homeless than when the regional effort began in 2011: 3,412 this year compared to 8,538 six years earlier. 


That comparison covers Houston, Harris County and Fort Bend County. Surveyers covered Montgomery County for the first time this year, but that data is not included in the year-to-year comparisons.

A census fact sheet is available here, and the full summary is available here.

Marilyn Brown, the coalition’s CEO, said in an interview that the decline in homelessness is due in large part to the 11,000 people placed in permanent housing since 2012, including 2,221 military veterans.

In 2011, one out of every 450 Houston-area residents was homeless, according to the coalition. This year that number is down to one in every 1,563.

READ MORE: Some veterans still homeless in Houston 18 months after city announcement

The coalition’s director of programs, Eva Thibaudeau, highlighted one success: This year’s count found a 20 percent drop in the number of un-sheltered chronically homeless people who live on the streets or in other places not fit for human habitation, like an abandoned building or a tent along a bayou. (People are considered sheltered if they sleep in an emergency shelter, domestic violence shelter or transitional housing.)

The chronically homeless are a target population identified by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, which mandates the annual point-in-time counts in cities nationwide. Research showed that this relatively small group of people who have generally been homeless for more than a year takes up a disproportionate share of public resources like police and hospital staff.

Homelessness has been in the news recently after Houston passed ordinances limiting camping in public and panhandling. One in five un-sheltered homeless people surveyed during the count got at least some of their income from panhandling.

READ MORE: ACLU sues city over panhandling, camping ordinances

The count paints a portrait of the Houston area’s overall homeless population:

  • Eight in 10 of the area’s unsheltered homeless first became homeless in Houston
  • 24 percent of sheltered homeless people were younger than 18; only one person under 18 was found sleeping on the streets
  • 405 military veterans were homeless, down from 537 last year
  • The homeless population was about 35 percent white, 55 percent black and 10 percent Hispanic 
  • 2,046 inmates at the Harris County Jail reported they were homeless before entering jail, which means the jail effectively serves as the area’s largest homeless shelter (though those inmates are not included in the overall count)

Among the unsheltered homeless,

  • About one-third percent said they did not have a high school diploma or GED
  • Nearly all were between 25 and 64 years old
  • The main sources of income were panhandling (20 percent) and Social Security/disability (about 10 percent)
  • More than 40 percent reported substance abuse
  • About one-third reported experiencing mental illness

See the top of the page for a slideshow of people homeless in Houston.


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