Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner says the city beat its own goal to house the homeless, with 548 people between March and August.
This surpasses the goal the mayor set in March to house 500 chronically homeless within six months.
One of those 548 success stories is Jose Canterra. After 13 years of living on Houston streets, which included addiction and a criminal record, Canterra is now working to get a job and continuing rehab since moving into his own apartment on August 3.
“I just want to get my life back together and get back into the working field like everyone else,” said Canterra, during a news conference at City Hall on Monday. “I’m just thankful right now.”
So was Mayor Turner, who thanked the volunteers with Avenue 360 that spent four years helping Canterra reach that point, along with several other nonprofits that helped the mayor reach his own goal set in March.
Along the way, Turner says the city faced several challenges, including unexpected housing voucher cuts from D.C and an unexpected visit by Harvey.
“We haven’t seen a significant impact of Harvey yet,” said Marc Eichenbaum, Special Assistant to the Mayor for Homeless Initiatives, when asked whether the storm increased the city’s homeless population.
However, Mayor Turner worries that could change.
“If help doesn’t come from the state or from the feds in a much greater level than what is currently coming, you are going to see it,” said Turner.
Eichenbaum said the city should have a much better idea of Harvey’s impact after the nonprofits present at City Hall on Monday, led by the Coalition for the Homeless, do a homeless count and survey at the end of January 2018.
Since 2011, city officials say the number of homeless has dropped by more than 60% to around 3,400 people each day, with 1,100 of those not sheltered.
However, Turner isn’t declaring ‘mission accomplished’ just yet. City staff and nonprofits continue to fight against underlying factors that have always kept people on the streets, including mental health and substance abuse issues.
On December 11, Turner proposed an outdoor shelter on Metro property with security and support services for the homeless reluctant to go to the shelters.
That includes Lakesha Bundage, who says she’s living under Highway 59 in a tent with her daughter, her daughter’s boyfriend, and their dog, Jeezy.
“I’m 44 years old,” said Bundage, who told KHOU she’s been on the street more than two years. “I’m grown. You can’t just tell me where to go, when to go, what time to be here, no. To avoid all that I be out here where I can do what I want to do.”
A member of the Houston Police Department’s Homeless Outreach Team (HOT) told KHOU six officers and three case managers talk to the homeless every day to offer them shelter. He said the HOT has had a lot of luck, and that usually it takes time to gain someone’s trust.