The state’s most vulnerable populations aren’t always in a position to vote for their elected officials, but they remain among the most affected by city hall’s political decisions. With rising living costs and a lack of access to health services, the issues facing Texas’ homeless are many. Here’s how four major cities approached homelessness in 2019.
The Bayou City has dropped their homeless population in half, according to the Point-in-Time count census, with the exception of a slight rise after Harvey. Coalition for the Homeless of Houston CEO Mike Nichols told Houston Matters last spring, “Since 2011, homelessness has decreased 54% in Harris, Fort Bend and Montgomery counties.”
Early in 2019, Mayor Sylvester Turner said, “the ultimate goal is to make sure all of Houston’s homeless have homes.” Since that time, about 6,000 homeless have found homes and The Way Home Program is going strong with the “Housing First model” based on “providing permanent supportive housing with wraparound supportive services to address the mental, physical and behavioral needs of homeless persons.”
In August, Mayor Turner shared on his blog, “Despite our ability to permanently house thousands of homeless individuals over the past few years, or perhaps because of it, we are now left with individuals on our streets who are the most difficult to house, with debilitating mental health and substance abuse issues, living in encampments that pose public health and safety risks to both the individuals living in the encampments and the surrounding communities.”
Last year both criticism and support were conveyed from Houstonians when the city passed two ordinances to address panhandling. Since then, a federal judge removed them, “allowing the city to again begin addressing the problem,” Turner said.
Last March, The Dallas Morning News shared that the homeless population was up for the second year in a row in the city. This summer the Tribune shared that although homelessness is going down in Houston, it’s rising in Dallas: “Houston decreased its homeless population by 54% since 2011, according to an annual census. In Dallas, the trend is the opposite — and housing affordability might make the problem even worse.”
The growth is higher than most of the other cities in the country. Carl Falconer, Metro Dallas Homeless Alliance’s president and chief executive told the Dallas Morning News, “I’m done stepping over people sleeping on the sidewalks,”
The Dallas Morning News stated this past fall, “Newly elected council member Chad West will be at the helm of a committee tasked with decisions most often ridden with controversy — housing and homelessness.”
In September, during his first State of Downtown Address, Dallas’ new Mayor Eric Johnson “spoke about how downtown Dallas and its residents face challenges to address homelessness and how the rapid pace of development has caused problems navigating the region.” Previously in the year WFAA noted, “The City of Dallas and its Office of Homeless Solutions have ongoing strategies to address the issues. Along with its partners, the Office of Homeless Solutions is active in checking on, cleaning up and in some cases shutting down tent encampments. The groups also work proactively to connect homeless residents with a variety of resources.”
Council member Adam Bazaldua, whose district covers South Dallas, is passionate about solutions for the homeless and shared with the Dallas Observer that “the city should spend more money attacking the underlying problems.”
This past fall, Reform Austin shared that the “standoff between Texas Gov. Greg Abbott and the Austin homeless population had reached a new level of animosity.” According to CNN, after the city of Austin relaxed laws making it legal for homeless residents to camp under highway overpasses, Abbott ordered cleanups of homeless encampments.
Steve Adler, Austin’s mayor, also shared with CNN that “the new city ordinance has simply brought people experiencing homelessness out of the shadows. “They’re more visible and I know that’s disconcerting to a lot of people. It’s disconcerting to see poverty in this city.”
Austin’s city council hopes that expanding a work program providing employment for the homeless will help, and allocated $720,000 to fund the program for Fiscal Year 2019-2020. Earlier in December, City Council members approved a $160,000 annual contract with LifeWorks to help get youth who are homeless into rapid rehousing and social services program.
In November shortly after the Town Hall on Homelessness in San Antonio, San Antonio City Council approved a contract with a consulting firm based in San Francisco that will create a Comprehensive Homeless Strategic Plan for the city’s homeless.
San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg’s support for the plan is echoed by Melody Woosley, the Director of the Department of Human Services, who said HomeBase “will produce a document that will guide us for the next five to ten years” by the end of March 2020.
To jumpstart San Antonio’s homelessness intervention, $560,000 was approved for supporting homeless services.