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Mayor Parker announces substantial reduction in chronic homeless population

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Houston City Councilors Robinson, Bradford, and Boykins  April 2 2014
Houston City Councilors Robinson, Bradford, and Boykins April 2 2014
Marc Pembroke
Mayor Parker discusses homeless efforts with journalists April 2 2014
photo by Marc Pembroke

At her weekly press conference April 2 following an unusually brief City Council meeting, Mayor Annise Parker announced that chronically the homeless population in Houston had been reduced by 30% since last year and 50% over the last two years.

The 38 items on the City Council agenda were non-controversial routine matters that required little discussion or debate, so all were approved unanimously except a matter delayed one week.

Ms. Parker was joined by her Special Assistant for Homeless initiatives Mandy Chapman-Semple and Marilyn Brown. President and CEO of the Coalition for the Homeless.

The reductions are a result of a combination of efforts, including thousands of new subsidized units, better coordination with area shelters and assisted services, and a new software system that makes it more efficient to identify the needs of a homeless applicant and match him or her to the appropriate services.

Marilyn Brown explained the “Housing First approach. The priority is to help locate a permanent housing program for an individual with easy access to other “wrap around” services, so that as the individual becomes stabilized other health and social problems can be addressed.

Ms. Chapman-Semple explained that before the new system was implemented, when a homeless person applied for permanent housing, the result depended a great deal on the knowledge and skills of the case worker who processed the application. With dozens of services all over Houston, it was impossible for one person to know every agency that might be able to assist an individual with particular needs or conditions. The average placement time from application to permanent housing was about 6 months. The new system allows all case workers access to information on the total number of beds available in all parts of the city. The result is a better match of services, and often more choice as to the area of Houston where person can be placed. Some have been able to move into permanent housing in as little as 7 days.

She stated that the system is effective for all homeless populations, but the immediate priority is to place the chronically homeless in permanent housing with appropriate support services.

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