How Houston Has Virtually Ended Homelessness Among Veterans

By on February 8, 2019
From CityLab:  Inside an abandoned warehouse on the northern end of downtown Houston is an encampment where approximately 20 homeless people stay each year. The ground is covered with cardboard, old newspapers, and plastic bottles of water coated in grime. On one wall, a mural reads: “Look for the Beauty Within the Most Frightening.” At the moment, there’s no one here.

The people who live in this “community,” as retired Houston Police Sergeant Steve Wick describes it, have been asked to clear out for the occasional hazmat sweep of the area, which he says can cost up to $60,000 each time. They’ve done two such sweeps in the past year, and the last one was a multi-day effort to remove accumulated debris.

“You have people that are sleeping on the same ground they’re going to the bathroom on,” Wick says, noting that it’s a major health risk, especially for fecal-born illnesses like hepatitis.

Wick, who led the homeless outreach team for the Houston Police Department until his retirement in January of 2019, would pass out water bottles every week as he made rounds through each of Houston’s three major homeless encampments and visit another half-dozen popular bridges or intersections where homeless people congregate. His goal was to convince as many as possible to connect with some of Houston’s social services and seek permanent housing, or possibly mental-health or drug addiction treatment.

Houston, which is held up as a model of success in finding permanent housing for homeless veterans, has in many ways an ideal team of people working to find solutions for the chronically homeless: an engaged police unit, a seasoned group of social and policy workers, and a city looking to innovate and improve. But finding homes for non-veterans who are chronically homeless involves more challenges, and the city’s homeless leaders are looking for creative ways to find solutions through collaboration and reducing bureaucratic hurdles.

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