Houston homelessness roadmap pays off big, offering lessons for Denver

Houston is a city that has been successful in reducing its homeless population and providing stability for those in need. One example is Teresa Eddins, who went from living under a bridge to now residing in a quiet apartment with her dog, Violet. She credits the transitional housing facility and programs established as part of “The Way Home,” Houston’s homelessness-reduction strategy, for her newfound stability and sobriety.

The city’s strategy has caught the attention of other cities, including Denver, where new Mayor Mike Johnston aims to move a large number of homeless people off the streets. The Denver Post visited Houston to better understand the success of their strategy, meeting with city leaders, people who have been helped, and those still waiting for assistance.

While Denver’s plan is similar to Houston’s, there are differences in the approaches and timelines. Houston’s focus is on finding permanent housing for the homeless, while Denver is initially relying on temporary options. The political will and reprioritization of city and federal funds, along with partnerships with nonprofit providers, have been crucial to Houston’s success. Despite challenges, including neighborhood pushback and economic pressures, the city has reduced unsheltered homelessness by about 63% in a decade.

A key element of Houston’s success is its housing-first approach, which prioritizes getting homeless individuals into stable living situations quickly. This approach is supported by services such as addiction treatment and mental Health counseling. The city’s navigation center has been instrumental in finding permanent housing options for the homeless. The pandemic has posed challenges, but federal aid has helped establish temporary housing options.

Former Mayor Annise Parker believes that other cities can learn from Houston’s sustained improvements in addressing homelessness. The city’s cohesive approach, with input from local governments and nonprofit groups, has been crucial in assessing and altering past approaches to homelessness. Houston’s success serves as a model for solving social problems, demonstrating the importance of collaboration and quick pivoting during crises.

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