This week, USICH Executive Director Jeff Olivet and Regional Coordinator Tamara Wright traveled to Houston, where the city and surrounding counties of Fort Bend, Harris, and Montgomery have been using American Rescue Plan funding to significantly reduce homelessness.
Olivet visited a local encampment, where he talked to the people living there, the service providers helping them move into permanent housing, and the local officials, including Mayor Sylvester Turner. He also attended the Houston Coalition for the Homeless State of Homelessness Conference, where he delivered the keynote address.
The Houston area’s homeless population has dropped by 62% since 2011, resulting in more than 25,000 people regaining housing after experiencing homelessness and the closure of dozens of encampments.
In July 2020, the city, county, and coalition launched the COVID Community Housing Program, which has rehoused or prevented homelessness for more than 8,000 in less than two years, exceeding the initial goal of 5,000. The city expects to rehouse another 7,000 within the next three years.
Funded in part by State and Local Fiscal Recovery Funds from the 2021 American Rescue Plan, the program is based on a Housing First approach that provides people with housing, shelter, and services without requirements like sobriety or clean criminal records. The outreach and assistance are coordinated across systems and jurisdictions, and they prioritize trauma-focused care that lets people choose housing and service options.
“Houston has proven to the whole country that homelessness is best addressed with swift access to housing and services—not handcuffs,” said Olivet. “Housing First works, and the Houston area’s significant reduction in homelessness is evidence.”
Houston is one of four Texas cities—along with Austin, Fort Worth, and San Antonio—that have joined House America, the federal-local partnership launched last year by HUD and USICH to help communities reduce homelessness and expand affordable housing using American Rescue Plan funds.
In addition to meeting with the mayor, Olivet met with Harris County Commissioner Adrian Garcia, a former police officer and sheriff who created the Employ 2 Empower program that helps people experiencing homelessness get job offers the same day they apply for services and housing assistance.
In 2015, Houston was one of the first U.S. cities to announce that it had ended Veteran homelessness as part of the Mayors Challenge to End Veteran Homelessness. By 2024, the city and county expect to cut overall homelessness in half.