Houston’s ‘housing-first’ approach to homelessness garners mixed opinions from Aurora City Council

1198

AURORA | Aurora lawmakers met last week to talk about takeaways from their recent Texas trip that might help the city’s several hundred homeless residents, with progressives defending Houston’s “housing-first” approach and conservatives questioning it. 

Mayor Mike Coffman and council members Alison Coombs and Juan Marcano made the trip last week along with officials from Denver, Adams and Arapahoe counties. They were met by a delegation from the City of Houston and its lead homelessness agency, the Coalition for the Homeless of Houston / Harris County.

The coalition has helped more than 25,000 homeless people find housing since 2012, according to Houston officials. Data collected on behalf of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development shows that, between 2011 and 2021, the number of homeless people in Houston’s continuum of care fell from 8,471 to 3,047, even as the geographic scope of the continuum grew.

Houston says its success is largely due to investing in permanent housing options — such as apartments and homes — rather than shelters and strategies that Marcano characterized as “managing” homelessness.

The “housing-first” philosophy prioritizes getting homeless people into housing as quickly as possible and means clients have a major need taken care of while looking for a job and dealing with substance abuse and mental health problems that prevent them from being fully self-sufficient.

In 2012, the city overhauled its approach to homelessness, uniting regional government and community resources behind Houston’s continuum of care and a single agency. They first focused on housing veterans — 100 in as many days, which they accomplished, then 300 in 100 days.

Houston used properties scattered across the city rather than a large, central campus to house homeless residents, including vacant properties, new subsidized housing and some repurposed hotels and motels, with attention paid to properties’ location near jobs and transit.

They also wielded what Marcano on Monday called a “small army” of landlord recruiters, who convinced property managers to rent their buildings to formerly homeless tenants, with rent and utilities guaranteed by the city.

A decade later, Marcano said Houston’s program found that only about 25% of clients required supportive housing on an ongoing basis due to mental health problems or other disabilities. Around 90% of formerly homeless clients have remained housed, either on their own or in supportive housing.

And Houston officials told the delegation from Colorado that it costs around $17,000 to house a person, compared to $96,000 to manage their homelessness.

“This is the fiscally conservative and humane thing to do,” Marcano said. “When you put folks into housing, the ER is no longer their primary care provider. They’re able to actually get detox and these other services without first having to first be arrested or contacted by EMS. … They have shelter, and they have access to these services through this continuum, so you can actually address these issues before they publicly manifest.”

Coombs passed on two pieces of advice from the Houston delegation — that a single agency be chosen to lead metro Denver’s response to homelessness, and that the crisis not be used as a “political football” by elected officials.

“I look forward to us having the conversations of looking at as a jurisdiction really being the strong leader that the region needs to move some things forward,” she said.

Coffman called the Houston program’s ability to unite service providers for the common goal of helping the city’s homeless “extraordinary.” However, he and Councilmember Dustin Zvonek also expressed skepticism about Houston’s approach during Monday’s study session and on social media.

Coffman said he was disappointed that Houston officials couldn’t provide data on the number of people who took advantage of employment and mental health resources once they were in the program.

He and Zvonek said they were looking forward to an upcoming trip to another Texas city, San Antonio, where City Council members will study that city’s approach to reducing homelessness, which Zvonek said places conditions on receiving housing.

Zvonek said in one social media post that he did not believe Houston’s model produced long-term results.

“Housing First is a ‘hide the homeless’ policy that allows the virtue signalers to feel good about reducing the number of ‘un-housed,’” he wrote in a Sept. 16 Twitter post. “It fails to improve the human condition or provide the support needed to become self sufficient.”

On Monday, he said he doubted whether many permanent supportive housing programs are enough to steer clients’ lives in a better direction.

“I do believe that, as diverse from an ideological standpoint on this council as we (are), I do think there’s going to be a lot of common areas and a desire to lead on an issue that’s important to the metro area,” he said. “The key is going to be asking, are we changing the human condition? … Meeting people’s emergency needs is important, but are we changing the human condition for those who we can?”

The council’s San Antonio trip is scheduled to take place Oct. 4-5.

5 1 vote
Article Rating
Subscribe
Notify of
guest

6 Comments
Oldest
Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
CC Carson
CC Carson
2 months ago

My question to the council is what are you spending in man hours and $. now on homelessness and if it hasn’t worked, what is the harm of trying something that has? and may cost less. The Houston model sounds a lot better than what Aurora is experiencing now. My neighborhood is looking more like a slum every day and recently we found a homeless youth sleeping in the “unlocked” laundry facility. It is now locked! I live in Heather Ridge.

Doug
Doug
2 months ago

My thoughts:
progressives defending Houston’s “housing-first” approach and conservatives questioning it. 
coalition has helped more than 25,000 homeless people find housing.
landlord recruiters, who convinced property managers to rent their buildings to formerly homeless tenants, with rent and utilities guaranteed by the city.
officials told the delegation from Colorado that it costs around $17,000 to house a person, compared to $96,000 to manage their homelessness.
Coffman called the Houston program’s ability to unite service providers for the common goal of helping the city’s homeless “extraordinary.”
fact:
number of homeless people in Houston’s continuum of care fell from 8,471 to 3,047.
BUT: Zvonek does not believe Houston’s model produced long-term results.
“Housing First is a ‘hide the homeless’ policy … “It fails to improve the human condition or provide the support needed to become self sufficient.”

Houston’s continuum of care fell from 8,471 to 3,047.

vote 🔵

Arnie Schultz
Arnie Schultz
2 months ago

Since Mayor Coffman said he was disappointed that Houston officials couldn’t provide data on the number of people who took advantage of employment and mental health resources once they were in the program, I would suggest he calls one of the contacts in Houston to find out how many chronically homeless have been assigned a case manager who helps with access to employment programs, psychiatric and substance abuse treatment and what the results of that have been.

At the same time, Mayor Coffman can ask them to verify or deny Council Member Marcano’s statement that Houston’s program found that only about 25% of clients required supportive housing on an ongoing basis due to mental health problems or other disabilities. Around 90% of formerly homeless clients have remained housed, either on their own or in supportive housing.

I would also appreciate learning from those of you who attended what conclusions you heard from other members of the delegation who accompanied you to Houston. Thank you.

Debra MacKillop
Debra MacKillop
2 months ago

I worked for years with homeless in Denver using housing first model, and it’s a complex topic (that’s why Coffman will never get it), and so many different reasons why people become homeless and many services needed to come along side housing to help people not only get housed but maintain it and get out of the homeless cycle. All studies and the science around Housing First show it’s the most successful and humane model and the World Health Organization done a lot of studying that support Housing First. But when Aurora passed camping ban it had no experts on homelessness and housing first come to testify and cared nothing for the truth of what the camping ban would do – camping ban just did a knee jerk policy to make themselves look good blaming the homeless and trying to shove them to the shadows while criminalizing homelessness. Studies show it makes things worse. So I have no confidence that coffman/conservative majority will do the real work to learn and help Aurora help the homeless in our midst. We had a great model right in Denver and Aurora could have had Denver CO Coalition for the Homeless right next door come and speak on what works as it’s so successful, and Aurora ignored it. We need competent, caring, qualified people on the Council who can work together, follow the science and move ahead with informed, caring leaders.Coffman will never make that happen.

FactsOverFeelings
FactsOverFeelings
2 months ago

Of course conservatives are against it, it’s a policy that would help people instead of cruelly criminalizing the situation the homeless have found themselves in!

Hypocrisy Monitor
Hypocrisy Monitor
2 months ago

“Housing First” is all you need to know. This wrong-headed philosophy fails time and again, including right here in our own backyard–Hickenlooper’s 10-year debacle “Denver’s Road Home.”

The problem is in OFFERING services but not REQUIRING them of program participants. If they have no skin in the game, they too often simply continue with their poor life choices, but inside.

All “wraparound services” do is employ program hangers-on who will perpetuate failure, to keep their jobs.

There are better programs that include ACCOUNTABILITY. And those are the ones the city should model.