Homeless Count Determines Level Of Funding

Last year, the homeless population in Harris and Fort Bend counties grew by 25 percent, according to an annual count by the coalition for the homeless of Houston-Harris County. Tomorrow volunteers will fan out to count the homeless population for 2012. This count help determine funding from the federal government.

The word "homeless" for many brings to mind images of ragged adults sleeping on park benches covered with newspapers. Unsheltered homeless can be found in any location that is not intended for residential habitation, or that is outdoors. It wasn't that long ago that a generic profile of a homeless person in Houston could be determined. Gary Grier with the
Coalition for the Homeless says it's not that easy now.

"There's so many contributing factors. We certainly know that the number one factor is loss of job, but also domestic violence, mental illness, substance abuse. There are the high prevalence of disability among the homeless."

Last January, the census found more than 8,500 men, women and children were homeless, compared with over 6,800 in 2010. Grier says the coalition used a different method that resulted in a more accurate count.

"There are more than 29 study mapping areas that we sub-divide, which if you took the area that we cover, you could fit 13 major cities into the area. Geographically, it's very huge."

Charity Dominguez with SEARCH Homeless Services will be involved in the count.

"We have specialized outreach teams, in which we go out and actually go under bridges and look for encampments, in the bayous and in hidden areas, to actually find homeless individuals and count them."

It starts at 5:30 in the afternoon and ends at 11:30 at night.

Houston has the largest homeless population in Texas and the 8th largest in the United States.

In addition to those counted on the streets, the McKinney-Vento Homeless Education Assistance Act expands the definition of homelessness, to provide assistance to school-based homeless youth. More than 11,000 children attending schools in Harris County were registered as homeless last year. This includes children who are at risk and living doubled-up with friends and family.

Thao Costis, president and CEO of SEARCH says the need for an accurate count is critical.

"Part of the challenge that the coalition and demographers have is to have a systematic approach to counting these individuals. They segment the city: they have volunteers and staff that go throughout the city, and do it in a very scientific manner. And so, this count will be consistent with last year's approach and methodology."

Houston is one of 9 communities recently identified by the Department of Housing and Urban Development as being a high priority for addressing homelessness. For more information, visit Houston Homeless Count.org.

Bio photo of Pat Hernandez

Pat Hernandez

Reporter

Pat Hernandez is a general assignments reporter who joined the KUHF news staff in February of 2008...