Houston’s Homeless Population Has Dropped Dramatically Over the Last 3 Years

Homeless Camp Outside City Hall, HoustonThe number of homeless people living without shelter in Harris County and Fort Bend County dropped by more than 50 percent between 2011 and this year, according to the latest figures released yesterday by the nonprofit Coalition for the Homeless. The overall homeless population — which includes those housed in shelters — stands at 5,351, according to the organization’s latest count, which was conducted on January 30th. That’s down a similarly respectable 37 percent from the 2011 figure, and a 16 percent drop from the numbers found in 2013.

The report goes on to break down those numbers into subpopulations, as illustrated in this chart:


Data from 2014 Houston Coalition for the Homeless Report

One out of every 910 people in Harris and Fort Bend Counties is homeless, according to the report. And nearly half of the unsheltered homeless population suffer from mental illness, substance abuse problems, or both.

Additional details in the organization’s report identify a few issues with the study’s methodology: First, the numbers come from a single count on a single evening, and for that reason “may not be measuring all persons experiencing homelessness.” In addition, the numbers follow the department of Housing and Urban Development’s definition of homelessness, which does not include incarcerated persons. Adding in the number of “individuals in the Harris County Jail the night of the count who indicated that they were homeless before arrest (and therefore likely to be so after release),” the total number of homeless persons in the region rises to 6,876. However, the report also notes, under this expanded definition of homelessness, the total number is still down 38 percent from 2011.

Advocates for the homeless cited the improved economy, collaboration among local organizations providing services to the homeless, and increased federal focus and funding for their efforts as factors in the improvement, reports the Chronicle’s Jayme Fraser: “The number of people placed into permanent supportive housing, which has no limit on how long a person can stay and is connected with intensive social services, has jumped 81 percent over three years, according to the coalition,” she writes. “Neal Rackleff, leader of the city’s housing department, said the region is on track to build the last 1,000 units needed by the [federal] deadline [to end chronic and veteran homelessness by 2015].”

Data from 2014 Houston Coalition for the Homeless Report

Fraser continues: “The housing-first philosophy contends people are more likely to stay housed if they have the guarantee of a home as long as it takes them to manage financial, physical and mental health challenges.
Advocates also cite a local government review that found it is at least three times cheaper for taxpayers to fund a unit of permanent supportive housing than pay for emergency room visits, jail time, and temporary shelter.”

Photo of City Hall: elnina

Down for the Count

21 Comment

  • That’s incredible–it’s refreshing to see some good news and know that these organizations that work so hard to help those in need are actually succeeding.

  • That’s great news!!! You’d never know it, though, if you lived near Ella @ 610.

  • Doesn’t look like that is the case downtown…

  • This article is so absurd–how can you really count the homeless?–they’re HOMELESS!–from that I’ve seen around town the numbers have gone up not down. Their count isn’t the least bit accurate, it relies on a flawed calculation.

  • It’s like saying because there are less people in public housing that means the amount of poor people have decreased—maybe they’re staying with family, or in cheap housing, or maybe their homeless!–living under a bridge–I’d be thrilled if the homeless problem were really improving, but from what I’ve seen in the last year it’s worse, much worse–downtown is like one huge open air homeless shelter–these numbers these people come up with are comical–I see that many homeless on Westheimer.

  • I work in midtown/downtown and it has definitely not gotten better, it has gotten MUCH worse, I can’t park my car or walk into a store without getting bothered by a homeless person asking for money. I never give them money, if we all stopped giving them money they’d go away. They are hurting our city, the bus station in midtown and homeless shelters need to be moved outside the loop. And we need to make illegal to sleep on the streets and for them to beg. It’s so far out of hand, I see them break into cars, steal purses, wondering out into traffic. It’s terrible

  • I’m not so sure. I’ve seen a significant increase in homeless people in the Medical Center where I work. They’re sleeping in small parks and hospital loading docks, and living in the thick brush along Brays Bayou. A disturbingly large number of them are young and look like tweakers. Unless they’re out panhandling, you’d never see them, let alone count them.

  • That bus station in Midtown has to be relocated! It is such a drain on that part of town. The new / exciting Midtown development won’t cross Main St as long as that’s there.

  • Wow there sure a lot of hate being directed to the downtrodden. The vitriol is no just mild dislike for a serious problem within our society, it is heartfelt hatered, with a complete lack of empathy for fellow human beings. Many of the people making these hateful comments are the same ones that are opposed to change on one hand but on the other they want to cast people off like garbage. Shame on you all, may karma haunt you to the ends of the earth.

  • When you have a homeless person threaten violence with a weapon and also threaten your 85 year old grandfather, then you can judge –it’s easy to sit in an irory tower and make absurd assumptions about people. For many, the homeless (most are mentally ill) make their lives a living hell, I have a friend in NYC that has a group of these people harass his entire community –so many homeless are felons with warrants, the one that threatened my sweet elegant grandad and me was a felon that had been wanted for 7 years for a violent assault on a lady who lost the use of her left eye and her arm–so forgive me if I don’t agree with your assessment of the homeless.

  • @Higher Density: do you have a workable solution to reduce Houston’s homeless population?

  • I have participated in one of these counts before, for college credit. You find someone that looks homeless you ask them a series of questions how long, is there anyone with you that is homeless also, why are you in this situation. blah blah blah. Then you give a goody bag. Food, hygiene products, socks, condoms, dental dam’s, the basics for surviving on the streets.

    As they mentioned this is a once a year for one day count, mostly volunteers. So depending on the quality of your volunteers, and whether they are going out to look or just staying around the food banks will alter your count greatly.

    The Housing first philosophy is very popular in Seattle, their homeless even get to have prescribed beers in the group home. Come on Houston lets show how hip we are and do the same, maybe we can get Saint Arnolds or Karbach as a Sponsor keep it local.

  • I do agree these numbers and conclusions do not seem correct from my own personal observation and experience. I’d think the chronically homeless are pretty good at avoiding detection especially by persons doing a single survey on a single day. Relocating homeless shelters and bus stations is not going to solve the problem, except possibly for the NIMBYs who live in the area. Until society chooses to seriously and humanely addresses the issues of the mentally ill and those excluded from participating in society by a criminal record there will be no improvement for homeless individuals or the people who live in the areas the homeless congregate in (wish I could have used the word communities, but that word has a connotation of support and connectedness which is somewhat lacking in many comments).

  • Yeah their methodology is not adequately described, and sounds like BS. To me, it appears that they are using cherry-picked stats to support their philosophy about building more permanent publically-funded housing (and to win the resulting funding wars). They will use this graph to build political support to lobby for hundreds of millions more from government agencies for public homeless housing in Houston. The problem is that building “permanent” public housing is very expensive and is paid for by our tax dollars – on top of that, some would argue about the morality of taking from working citizens who are actively participating in society and building and paying for free homes for people who shun it.

    I’ve often wondered how many homeless there are in Houston. My estimate would be well north of 15,000. There are at least 20 living within a few blocks of Southmore and 288, and that’s just one intersection. There are camps in the alleys, behind gas stations, and under trees in the TXDOT easements. And you see the same thing at the hundreds of major intersections throughout town. Near the shelters in Midtown and Eado, there are hundreds more hanging out each day. And there are hundreds more living in the public parks and under freeway overpasses at the major interchanges. Also, I’ve noticed that they are spreading out more and more toward the burbs. It’s not uncommon to see them in Katy, Sugar Land, and the Woodlands now, whereas 10 years ago it was much less common.

    I’d like to see someone poke a little smell test at their numbers. Wish someone had done that to the Astrodome managers a while back, too.

  • I now live and have worked in the Museum District for almost 8 years. The homeless population has grown considerably in the past year. I run a small museum in the district which has become a favorite overnight spot for vagrants. We have tried to be humane and wish to simply ask them to leave the property when we open for business. When engaged most of these folks are not pleasant and have even threatened violence. In addition to the threats, they have defecated on the property and caused other unsanitary conditions that we are left to clean up. We at first welcomed them to use our restrooms and offered them water, but then find them stealing supplies and bathing in the sinks. I am growing more and more concerned for the safety of my staff and our visitors. Crime is also up with more cars being broken into, personal items items stolen and tires slashed in the parking lot. It is a terrible situation, we are torn between wanting to be kind and to help a fellow human being in need and yet, also wanting to protect our safety and that of those around us, along with our property.

    HPD has advised us to not engage them at all and to call the HPD non-emergency number or 311. They have formed a Homeless Outreach Team, but there are only four of them on staff. So far when we have called either #, they have been quick to respond, especially when we suspect someone needed immediate attention.
    Non-emergency number
    (713) 884-3131
    Homeless Outreach Team Email

  • Wow, Coalition for the Homeless better watch out. At this rate they’ll loose ALL their customers by 2017.

  • Summary: I don’t think the Coalition’s numbers are scientifically rigorous to accept as valid.
    As others have noted, the count was a “one night” count. For all we know, Mayor Parker and her crackerjack team of City ninjas handed out round-trip bus vouchers on the night before the count to depress the numbers temporarily. The homeless got a “paid vacation” to another city for a day or two to check out the other city’s homeless vibe – heck, they may have had a convention of sorts.
    I’ve lived inside the Loop for over 25 years and see plenty of panhandlers. Taking the Metro toy train is a way of seeing even more congregating along the line in downtown. All of this is not to have empathy for the downtrodden – they are human beings and are worthy of help – but the politics around the city housing bureau, the Coalition, and the Daddy Warbucks HUD federal agency is a bit gross to watch as they posture to get more cash for their programs. Of course, the cash comes from non-homeless taxpayers. :)

  • The homeless population is down? Have you been to midtown lately? Hermann Park? Med Center? Any intersection of this city? The homeless population has sky-rocketed in the last three years. Every park inside the loop is full of these lazy bums. Seriously, if you can’t make it in the United States, in one of the fastest growing cities, it’s your fault, not to mention your addiction to alcohol and drugs. I recently had friends and family visit from Chicago, and they commented on how many bums there were, not to mention how aggressively they panhandle. Need to put these lazy bums into work camps, make them picks vegetables and clean the city. They are living off the fat of the land, save a few bucks and buy some cheap booze. These shelters are nothing more than meeting places for these bums to share grifting ideas.

  • Good comments all around.

    I’m compassionate, but I really cant respect anyone standing on a street corner with a sign begging for other peoples’ hard earned money. There are soup kitchens, food banks, and homeless shelters available in the city. Deal with your addiction or mental illness problem if you have one. Go to a public library and use the internet to find resources to help you get off the street.

  • Saying it does not make it so. I’ve noticed that the panhandling at intersections has increased from one person working an intersection to several working the same intersection. And now it seems like there’s panhandling at almost every intersection. It doesn’t appear to me as though homeless has decreased in Houston. I was Dallas for a week, in May, and I can’t recall seeing one person panhandling at an intersection. Are there less homeless people in Dallas, or are they just managing the situation better?

  • Some of the comments in here are pretty misinformed. For example, panhandling does not equal homeless, as many studies have shown. See http://www.popcenter.org/problems/panhandling/. However, most people equate the two, so the city cannot outlaw panhandling nor at the very least start encouraging the fine folks of this city not to give to panhandlers until they get a handle on the remaining homeless in the city.

    I think the positives in this article are that the city is pushing every day for more permanent shelter and housing for these folks, which has had positive effects in other cities like Seattle as an earlier comment mentioned. Anecdotal evidence to the contrary, it sounds like we are on the right path.