Why Aurora officials are headed to Houston in hopes of finding solution to rising homelessness (2022)

Diana Salas, a domestic violence survivor, recalls moving at least 41 times in 52 years, often maneuvering in and out of homelessness and going from one bad situation to another.

Sometimes, she slept in her car. Other times, she bounced around until she found a longer-term home, albeit one that would turn out to be temporary.

“I knew no stability,” she said.

But now, the 57-year-old Houston-area resident is in her third year of leasing her own apartment via help from the Bridge Over Troubled Waters. The nonprofit works with the homeless coalition in Houston and Harris County, Texas, focusing on a housing-first model to provide permanent supportive housing and temporary rapid rehousing.

Since 2012, the city of Houston has helped get almost 26,000 people into their own homes, with about an 89% success rate of keeping them there, according to data from Coalition for the Homeless of Houston/Harris County. It reduced the number of unhoused people by about 63% since 2011. It’s that success that has led government leaders to plan a visit to Houston this week to learn what worked, what didn’t and what strategies can be implemented locally where officials are working to tackle a growing homelessness problem. The delegation includes elected leaders from Aurora, Denver, Arapahoe County and Adams County.

“In 2011, we had the fifth-highest homeless population in the nation,” said Ana Rausch, vice president of the Coalition for the Homeless of Houston/Harris County. “It was close to 9,000 individuals and right now, it’s sitting around 3,000.”

Why Aurora officials are headed to Houston in hopes of finding solution to rising homelessness (1)

When Salas sought help after fleeing an abusive relationship, she only had the T-shirt, shorts and sandals she was wearing. She didn’t have a job because her then-husband convinced her she didn’t need to work and that he would take care of them. But when the nonprofit offered her permanent housing, despite having less than she’d ever owned before, she was happier than she’d ever been.

“I had safety,” Salas said. “I felt secure. I felt my confidence coming back.”

Aurora city leaders have been debating how best to address homelessness in a city that does not have enough shelter space or affordable housing.

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In 2021, Aurora identified 594 people in shelter who did not have homes, but that doesn’t include the people who didn’t seek shelter space. Meanwhile, the city only has 130-150 shelter beds available and expects to have 96 pallet shelters.

The City Council passed a controversial camping ban this year to prohibit urban camping and break up homeless encampments, and is considering a campaign to ask people not to give money to panhandlers, but critics say these kinds of policies will only make the situation worse.

The camping ban, which only allows for breaking up homeless encampments if there is shelter space available, drew swift criticism from advocates who say it criminalizes homelessness and is inhumane. Other plans like a campaign to educate people on not giving money to those who panhandle or finding ways to make it harder for people to panhandle garnered similar responses from homeless advocates. But proponents like Mayor Mike Coffman argue these types of measures are needed for community safety and business viability.

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Baluyot said before Aurora’s camping ban went into effect, the Salvation Army’s waitlist for shelter was about 80 people. Now, it’s up to 175.

Texas also has a statewide ban, although spokesperson for the coalition Catherine Villarreal said bans don’t solve homelessness, so the coalition works with the city and its partners to help house people living in encampments.

Additionally, Aurora has partnered with private entities such as Mile High Behavioral Health, the Salvation Army and Restoration Christian Fellowship to offer traditional emergency shelter space as well as sanctioned safe outdoor space, but without enough services to meet the demand, city leaders are looking at more options.

The Salvation Army has been providing a rapid rehousing program for Aurora families and older adults for the last six years, and each year has had to increase the amount of funding because of the growing need, said Kristen Baluyot, Denver Metro social services director for the Salvation Army.

Possibilities the city is studying include constructing a facility that could include emergency shelter; programs to help with mental health, substance abuse and job training; and private rooms or apartments.

Coffmansaid that third component is what council members will have to figure out how to structure. He ascribes to a “work-first model,” where he believes people should be working or meeting certain requirements before they’re eligible for temporary housing. Coffman points to transitional housing programs in Colorado Springs as successes he’d like Aurora to learn from.

“There’s a lot of best practices out there,” he said. “I’m hoping that we can urge people on the street to get off the street.” He added in a statement that he wants to work with regional partners to make homelessness a “rare, brief and a one-time experience.”

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Why Aurora officials are headed to Houston in hopes of finding solution to rising homelessness (3)

Another option is the housing-first model, which likely would have gotten more buy-in before the makeup of the Aurora City Council flipped during the last election. In this model, housing is viewed as a human right and people are connected to housing first and then supportive services to address underlying issues.

“If you want to help people get housing, you create housing that is accessible for them,” said Councilwoman Crystal Murillo, who helped lead the city’s creation of a housing strategy and views housing-first favorably. “That’s where money should be going. That’s the opportunity cost.”

Aurora is also collaborating with the state on plans to convert a facility that previously housed youth services into a homeless campus that would provide temporary housing and addiction recovery programs. The vacant facility in Arapahoe County was formerly known as the Ridge View Youth Services Center.

And Aurora Mental Health is planning to open a new crisis services and detox facility.

As leaders decide what to do next, they’re looking to Houston, which became a national success story for how it helped its residents get into – and stay in – homes. Exactly how did the city do it?

Rausch said first, all those involved started talking to each other. They even got business groups and individual landlords to buy in. In a lot of other communities, she sees silos where agencies, funders and jurisdictions are doing different things to address homelessness but not necessarily in conjunction with one another.

The coalition is also data-driven, with the various entities, including local governments and private partners, collaborating to respond to the community’s needs based on what the data show.

At the end of the day, Rausch said, it’s about putting as many resources as possible in permanent supportive housing, not emergency solutions like shelters or even transitional housing. Even when the city and county had COVID relief dollars to spend, they put them toward permanent supportive housing, not shorter-term solutions like hotels as some others did.

The coalition estimates that it spends about $18,000 per household per year for permanent supportive housing. Meanwhile, some studies have reported that a person’s chronic homelessness can cost taxpayers as much as about $30,000-$50,000 annually, according to a 2017 U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness report.

Why Aurora officials are headed to Houston in hopes of finding solution to rising homelessness (4)

The process of first meeting someone on the street to getting them housed isn’t instant, but it is faster and more efficient with a standard program in place. The key to begin is building trust, Rausch said.

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One argument both Baluyot and Rausch dispute is the notion that some people would prefer to remain living on the streets, saying that the reason some may not jump at housing immediately is more complex. Some are dealing with mental health and addiction issues, disabilities and conditions worsened by prolonged homelessness, and issues of trust.

“My take is that everybody wants to be housed and deserves to be housed,” Baluyot said. “The challenge that we often face is that some people are so beaten down by what they’re told from society or what they have lived out … And what we find is they start to lose their sense of dignity and self-worth. And so when people lose that, they start to believe that they aren’t worthy of being housed, that they can’t do it.”

Clovers McCoy, a 58-year-old Houston resident and client of Avenue 360, who had been in and out of homelessness before receiving permanent supportive housing, points to drug addiction and incarceration as things that kept her out of stable housing.

But 15 years ago, McCoy was able to get into her own apartment, find a job and get the treatment she needed.

“I’m not on drugs, I’m not prostituting,” McCoy said. “I have a committed relationship. And I keep my bills up to date and I am on Social Security. … I’m healing very, very well.”

In Houston, to get a person into permanent housing, someone from an outreach team will engage with the person living on the street, establish a relationship, and then conduct an assessment to figure out if the person needs permanent supportive housing for those who have been chronically homeless or rapid rehousing for a shorter-term intervention to help them get through a tough time.

Then they’re put on a waitlist, and someone works with them to get IDs and documents they need to sign a lease. A landlord team identifies affordable market-rate apartment units where they can apply. And a staff member helps the person throughout the process and connects them with a case manager and supportive services after moving in.

Why Aurora officials are headed to Houston in hopes of finding solution to rising homelessness (5)

Rausch said it’s more cost-effective to pay for people’s housing than it is to pay for a shelter and costs related to emergency health care and the criminal justice system. And that’s even with paying landlords $1,500 (separate from monthly rent) per unit dedicated to homeless response.

“(In) housing first, you get a person into a house or an apartment, you get food in their belly, you give them a place to relax and not have someone breathing down their neck every day, or having fight or flight mode when you’re living on the streets compared to if you’re in your own place,” Rausch said. “So then once a person is housed, they have to get to a point where they’re mentally there to even be able to focus on the issues that might have caused or lead to them becoming homeless.”

In Aurora, nonprofits and other agencies are working together to try to get to what’s referred to as “functional zero,” at least as many people exiting homelessness as those entering it, said Emma Knight, the city of Aurora’s homelessness programs manager.

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“What we’re seeing the most is that we’re in a high-cost, low-vacancy market right now in Aurora, and folks are just getting pushed out and unable to afford to maintain their housing, even if they’re working multiple jobs sometimes if it’s in is a lower wage bracket,” she said.

Aurora has an outreach team that works with people living on the street and the city is trying to expand its affordable housing inventory. They’re already doing some of what Houston does, Knight said, but they’re hoping to learn more about the program specifics.

Why Aurora officials are headed to Houston in hopes of finding solution to rising homelessness (6)

The spectrum of services in the area continues to improve, but the whole system is “still not exactly as quick and nimble as we’d like it to be in serving those who are experiencing homelessness,” Baluyot said.

There are not enough permanent supportive housing options for those dealing with chronic health conditions or substance abuse and need more wraparound services, or enough affordable housing for those with jobs who still can’t make ends meet, she said.

For Houston’s Salas, getting housing and supportive services made such an impact on her life, she wants to help others. She recently participated in a “Shark Tank” contest through The Bridge Over Troubled Waters to help Latina women to start businesses, and she credits the nonprofit and her faith in God in helping her break the cycle of abuse.

Although she didn’t win the contest, she still decided to launch her business: Space City SWAG (Stop Worldwide Abuse Gear). Salas plans to sell T-shirts and other items to empower women, specifically targeting Latinas like herself. She also wants to launch a nonprofit to provide resources about domestic violence.

“I may not be able to change the world, but I may be able to change the world for another Diana,” she said.

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Why Aurora officials are headed to Houston in hopes of finding solution to rising homelessness (7)

FAQs

Why are there so many homeless in Houston? ›

An economic crisis, such as the loss of a job or bills becoming higher than someone's earnings, is the cause of 50% of homelessness in the Houston region. Things like substance use disorder and serious mental illness combined are only responsible for about 19% of homelessness episodes.

What is Houston doing to help the homeless? ›

During the last decade, Houston, the nation's fourth most populous city, has moved more than 25,000 homeless people directly into apartments and houses. The overwhelming majority of them have remained housed after two years.

Does Houston have a lot of homeless? ›

Houston is a national leader in ending homelessness. Not only did we become the first major city to declare an effective end to Veteran homelessness, but overall homelessness in our region has declined more than 50% since 2011.

Is homelessness increasing in Houston? ›

Total number of persons experiencing homelessness in 2022: 3,223. Homeless counts have dropped during the pandemic from nearly 4,000 in 2020. Overall, the number of people experiencing homelessness has declined 64% since 2011, according to data provided by the coalition.

What is the solution to the homeless problem? ›

Housing as the Solution

The solution to homelessness is simple – housing. Rapid re-housing is an intervention designed to quickly connect people to housing and services.

Why do people keep moving to Houston? ›

A: Impressive job opportunities, low cost of living, zero income tax and warm weather year-round are just a few of the qualities that make Houston a great place to live. Families, young professionals and retirees can all find a place in Space City to carve out a fine life.

What is Texas doing to help the homeless? ›

The Texas Legislature has dedicated $25 million to address homelessness, mental illness and substance abuse. But many cities have also adopted their own strategies, including camping bans, large shelters and citywide databases to track people experiencing homelessness.

What states help the homeless the most? ›

Based on this data, we found that Colorado, Georgia and Oregon have the overall best homeless assistance, and Oklahoma, Arkansas and West Virginia have the worst.
...
Key findings:
StateHomelessness rate changeHomelessness per 10K
Georgia8.9%10
Oregon9.0%38
New York0.7%47
California16.5%38
46 more rows
12 Jan 2021

What is causing homelessness in Texas? ›

People become homeless for a variety of reasons. Unemployment and poverty are major contributors, as are untreated mental illness and substance abuse, but so is a lack of affordable housing — an increasingly difficult problem that affects many Texans, creating instability and uncertainty in their lives.

What city has the highest homeless population in Texas? ›

But when measuring the unsheltered count, Austin stands apart from the rest:
  • Austin – 63 percent of total population, 163 per capita.
  • Houston – 49 percent of total population, 65 per capita.
  • San Antonio – 43 percent of total population, 85 per capita.
  • Fort Worth – 39 percent of total population, 53 per capita.
29 Apr 2021

Why is Texas homelessness increasing? ›

With rents rising fast, Texas homeless shelters see more families seeking help. Amid rising housing costs and relentless inflation, an increasing number of Texans are struggling to pay their rent and stay in their homes.

What are the biggest problems in Houston? ›

“We hope our findings help policymakers by reinforcing the areas of most concern to people living in the Houston area.”
...
Flooding, Violent Crime Top Concerns of Harris County Residents
  • Failing public schools 55%
  • Streets in poor condition 53%
  • Homeless population 52%
  • Lack of access to health care 51%
  • Traffic congestion 50%
10 Feb 2021

How much does Houston spend on homelessness? ›

Unhoused people in the Houston area are being placed in permanent housing at an increased rate after the city of Houston and Harris County invested nearly $200 million to reduce homelessness in the area, according to an annual count of the region's homeless population.

Is Houston the fastest growing city? ›

Results from the 2020 census reveal some notable changes in population distribution over the last decade.

What are the 3 main reasons why people become homeless? ›

Key Takeaways

California's homeless crisis is associated with high housing costs, inadequate shelter spaces, deinstitutionalization, and changes in the criminal justice system.

What are the main problems faced by homeless people? ›

Summary
  • Poverty.
  • Unemployment.
  • Lack of affordable housing.
  • Mental and substance use disorders.
  • Trauma and violence.
  • Domestic violence.
  • Justice-system involvement.
  • Sudden serious illness.
16 Sept 2021

What are the main problems for the homeless? ›

Common health issues for homeless people include mental ill health, alcohol abuse, drug use and violence.
...
Homelessness and health inequalities
  • homelessness.
  • street culture activities.
  • mental health problems.
  • drug and/or alcohol dependencies.
  • experience of institutions such as prison, hospital or the care system.
24 Dec 2021

What are the pros and cons of moving to Houston Texas? ›

Living in Houston, TX: Pros and cons
  • Pro: A diverse metropolis.
  • Con: Lack of public transportation.
  • Pro: Lots of sports to watch.
  • Con: Traffic.
  • Pro: Ample arts and recreation.
  • Con: Heat and humidity.
  • Pro: A food haven.
  • Con: Tropical storms.
2 Sept 2021

What are the benefits of living in Houston Texas? ›

Pros of Living in Houston, Texas
  • #1. There's no state income tax. ...
  • #2. The housing market is still (relatively) affordable. ...
  • #3. The overall low cost of living in Houston. ...
  • #4. The healthcare system is top-notch. ...
  • #5. Houston is a foodie's paradise. ...
  • #7. Constant sunshine. ...
  • #8. The locals are genuinely friendly. ...
  • #9.
14 Nov 2022

Why is Houston growing? ›

Fulton pointed to the strong Texas home building industry as one reason that places like Houston, Dallas and Austin have grown, while the high cost of living forces people out of other major cities.

Why homelessness is a social problem? ›

Homelessness is a complex social problem with a variety of underlying economic and social factors such as poverty, lack of affordable housing, uncertain physical and mental health, addictions, and community and family breakdown.

What is the most homeless city in America? ›

CityNo of homeless people
New York City (NY)78,604
Los Angeles, City & County (CA)56,257
Seattle with King County (WA)11,199
San Jose & Santa Clara (CA)9.706
6 more rows

What is the government doing to help homelessness in America? ›

Federal housing assistance: Federal housing programs are one of the most successful housing-based solutions to reduce homelessness. The two largest federal housing programs are public housing and federal housing vouchers, known as Housing Choice Vouchers or Section 8 vouchers.

What government program is responsible in homelessness? ›

HUD's McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Grants program is at the core of federal efforts to end homelessness. Each year, HUD awards Homeless Assistance Grants to communities that administer housing and services at the local level.

What can be done to help people in Texas? ›

7 Ways to Help People in Texas Without Heat & Water Right Now
  • Support a food bank. Don't know where to begin? ...
  • Donate to a mutual aid fund. ...
  • Give back to first responders. ...
  • Contribute to a national organization. ...
  • Support Texas's animals as well. ...
  • Help fund emergency supplies. ...
  • Spread the word.
18 Feb 2021

What is the main cause of homelessness in America? ›

Lack of Affordable Housing – There's a clear connection between the lack of affordable places to live, and the number of people living on the streets. More specifically, in cities and metropolitan areas.

Why is homelessness increasing? ›

Homelessness experts mostly attribute the rise to precipitous drops in earnings during the pandemic among Californians already teetering on the edge. They also point to a worsening housing affordability crisis that is decades in the making.

What country has the least homeless? ›

While there is no definitive answer, some reports have claimed that Japan has a homelessness rate of 0%. We can't state with absolute certainty that those numbers are true and accurate, but if they are, then Japan stands alone in that feat.

Is being homeless illegal in Texas? ›

The Texas law criminalizes people for trying to survive when there are no other options available—it does nothing to address homelessness. But Texas is not alone in adopting such measures.

What are 6 reasons why people become homeless? ›

10 Causes of Homelessness
  • ADDICTION. Probably the most common stereotype of chronically homeless people is that they are drug and alcohol addicts — with good reason. ...
  • DOMESTIC VIOLENCE. ...
  • MENTAL ILLNESS. ...
  • JOB LOSS AND UNDEREMPLOYMENT. ...
  • FORECLOSURE. ...
  • POST-TRAUMATIC STRESS. ...
  • THROW AWAY TEENS. ...
  • RELATIONAL BROKENNESS.

Where is homelessness the worst in the US? ›

Over the years, the city of Chicago, Illinois has gained a reputation as the city with the most homeless people, rivaling Los Angeles and New York City, although no statistical data have backed this up.

What state has less homeless? ›

States with the least homelessness
  • North Dakota. Number of homeless people: 541. Share of homeless people in shelters: 93.72% Share of homeless people as a percentage of the total population: 0.07% ...
  • Wyoming. Number of homeless people: 612. Share of homeless people in shelters: 79.90% ...
  • South Dakota.
15 Mar 2022

Which state is number one in homelessness? ›

The state of California currently has the highest homeless population, with about 151,278 homeless people. This is about one-fifth of the total homeless population in the United States.

Where is homelessness happening the most? ›

Despite its rapidly growing economy, India has the world's highest rate, with 78 million people classified as homeless. Here, homelessness is defined as the inability to afford housing or access regular and safe shelter.

Is Houston a safe place to live? ›

Houston's crime rate is 95% greater than the national average. Houston has 170 percent more violent crimes than the national average. You have a one in twenty chance of being a victim of crime in Houston. Houston is safer than only 3% of cities in the United States.

Is Houston a good place to live? ›

Prized for its diversity, Houston is considered one of the best places to live in Texas due to its quality of life and welcoming atmosphere. Best known for its space exploration, energy industry, and affordable cost of living, it is no wonder why Houston has become a top destination for relocation.

Is Houston a healthy city? ›

Houston, TX

From 2019 to 2020, Houston made a leap from 38th to 9th healthiest city in America.

How many are homeless in Houston? ›

The 2020 U.S. Census showed a total of 6,174,367 persons in Harris, Montgomery, and Fort Bend counties. We found that with this year's Count of 3,223 persons experiencing homelessness, one out of 1,916 of those living in the three-county area were experiencing homeless on the night of the Count.

Is Houston considered low cost of living? ›

Houston has the second lowest living costs among the most populous U.S. metro areas, according to the C2ER Cost of Living Index Q3 '22. Houston's living costs are 8.2 percent below the nationwide average and 35.5 percent below the average of the nation's most populous metropolitan areas.

How much of Houston is in poverty? ›

Table
Population
Income & Poverty
Median household income (in 2020 dollars), 2016-2020$53,600
Per capita income in past 12 months (in 2020 dollars), 2016-2020$33,626
Persons in poverty, percent 19.6%
54 more rows

Is Houston a wealthy city? ›

The report said 623 have assets worth at least $100 million and 62 billionaires live in the city. Los Angeles, Chicago and Houston are the other U.S. cities in the top 10, ranking 6th, 7th, and 8th, respectively.

What is the number 1 fastest-growing city in America? ›

Modest Housing Unit Growth in Nearly All States
Table 3. The 15 Most Populous Cities on July 1, 2021
RankArea NameState Name
1New York cityNew York
2Los Angeles cityCalifornia
3Chicago cityIllinois
12 more rows
26 May 2022

What US city has the highest number of homeless? ›

According to government data,more than half a million people are experiencing homelessness in the US on any given night.
...
6 U.S. Cities With the Highest Homeless Population
  • New York City. Homeless Population: 77,943. ...
  • Los Angeles City. Homeless Population: 63,706. ...
  • Seattle. ...
  • San Jose. ...
  • San Francisco. ...
  • San Diego.
24 Feb 2022

What is the main cause of homelessness and? ›

Poverty. On a global scale, poverty is one of the most significant root causes of homelessness. Stagnant wages, unemployment, and high housing and healthcare costs all play into poverty. Being unable to afford essentials like housing, food, education, and more greatly increases a person's or family's risk.

What are the top two reasons for homelessness? ›

Here are the 3 most common causes of homelessness in the United States.
  • #3. Mental Illness. Mental illness is an issue that seems to be causing more problems in our society now than ever before. ...
  • #2. Unemployment. Unemployment and homelessness are always going to be linked together. ...
  • #1. Lack of Affordable Housing.
8 Jan 2020

Why is the problem of homelessness increasing? ›

The unaffordability of housing arises from a combination of increasing prices and stagnant incomes. In particular, the current cost of living crisis and rapid inflation is pushing many to the edge. Crisis have found that 1.7 million households could be pushed into homelessness this year.

Why is the number of homeless increasing? ›

Unfortunately, homelessness is increasing in Canada due to numerous factors, such as the COVID-19 pandemic, inflation, poverty, and lack of affordable housing.

What is the biggest cause of homelessness in America? ›

Lack of Affordable Housing – There's a clear connection between the lack of affordable places to live, and the number of people living on the streets. More specifically, in cities and metropolitan areas.

Does Texas have a homeless problem? ›

According to the Texas Homeless Network, there were 64,580 homeless people across Texas in 2021.

Who is most likely to be homeless in the US? ›

Black and Native Americans are more likely to become homeless than other racial and ethnic groups in the U.S. Although Black people comprise 13 percent of the general population and 21.4 percent of those living in poverty, they account for 40 percent of the homeless population.

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