This is a Tale of Two Cities. Houston, Texas is the fourth largest city in the United States. It has a population of about 2.4 million people and Harris County about has about 4.3 million residents. Over the past ten years Houston / Harris has reduced chronic homelessness by 63%. The number of newly sheltered, formerly homeless now in stable residences – 25,000.
Houston was designated as one of ten US cities to get additional Federal funding and assistance to adopt a “Housing First” policy. And now:
Houston still has a way to go to eliminate chronic homelessness. If 63% is 25,000 people, the remaining 37% means that there are still 14,500 people on the street. However, all political factions and communities in this city seem to agree on a goal of reducing homelessness to a fleeting event. The community working together has made impressive progress.
“Before I leave office, I want Houston to be the first big city to end chronic homelessness,”Sylvester Turner, Mayor of Houston
Over 18,000 people are homeless in Toronto. In 2021, 8200 people spent each night in shelters, 1600 more than in the previous year. And, every night 40 people are turned away from shelter. The city has received millions in dollars in federal funding but it seems that no one can tell if there has been any progress housing the chronically homeless.
The federal government’s National Housing Strategy plans to spend $78.5 billion to build 160,000 homes across Canada. The Canada Housing and Mortgage Corporation, a federal crown corporation, is in charge of the rollout. There may be money and there may be good intention. However, Canada’s auditor general has found that there is little accountability for achievement in tackling homelessness.
Also, it does not seem that there is an overriding theme such as “The Way Home” in Houston based on Housing First principles. Plus, the Ontario government’s More Homes Built Faster Act seems focussed on affordable home acquisition for the already housed rather than addressing the needs of the homeless. This indicates little coordination of strategy and tactics to eliminate homelessness in that city.
It may seem surprising that Houston, a city built on a go-it-alone business culture, decided to attack its homeless problem on a Finnish style “collective” basis. In the American political vernacular, Houston is located in a “purple” county in a “red state”. But it had done its homework – a coordinated Housing First approach works to reduce homelessness and results in benefits to the whole community.
So ends my Tale of Two Cities – apologies to Charles Dickens.
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People living on the street have come to symbolize the global housing crisis but they are only the tip of the iceberg. While the examples of Finland and Houston demonstrate a focussed plan pursued diligently can resolve the housing situation for the chronically homeless, addressing the affordable housing problem is much more complex. Defining Affordability […]
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