Housing Houston: City, private groups team up to help house city’s homeless 

HOUSTON — Mayor Sylvester Turner laid out Houston’s approach to extreme poverty at a recent press conference near the Wheeler Street homeless encampment.

“The goal is to reduce homelessness and provide them with housing,” Turner said.

The Way Home is a collaboration of private and public organizations with a mission to house Houston’s most vulnerable people.

“Getting a roof over someone’s head is the first and most important step to ending homelessness but it starts there. It doesn’t end there. Unfortunately there are just a lot of things that have gone on in that person’s life that we need to help repair,” Director of Programs Eva Thibaudeau-Graczyk with Coalition for the Homeless said.

People living on the street, even in the encampments, aren’t there because they want to be.

“People don’t want to live unsheltered in often times dangerous, unsanitary and unhealthy conditions. Often times, people don’t have other options,”said Thibaudeau-Graczyk.

Even when they do have options some feel their past makes them ineligible. Some feel their criminal record or history of mental illness keeps them from being able to succeed given similar opportunities.

“There is almost no one thing that is a complete and total roadblock to getting housing. We do whatever we can to advocate so that people, all people, can get into housing. We have really amazing outreach staff, housing navigators who say “‘Let me walk alongside you, and make this happen,’” explains Thibaudeau-Graczyk.

And ‘housing’ can take many forms.

“There’s single room occupancies which is kind of like an efficiency apartment, a very small apartment, typically with common space. It works very, very well for a lot of people who are single. We have a lot of scattered site units. So most of the people that are homeless or formerly homeless are living in fair market rent apartments throughout the entire region,” said Thibaudeau-Graczyk.

Then there’s family housing, like the new Star of Hope on Reed Road.

Single women and families may be eligible for their new ‘Cornerstone Community,’ a 48 acre development offering counseling, substance abuse recovery, a medical clinic, workplace training, and childcare assistance.

The center took it’s first residents a week before Harvey hit.

“If we can stay with a family, particularly a mom with children for three years out and continue they keep working with us, they lose their job we help them get another one. They can’t pay their rent, we help them with that. So if we keep them independent three years, 80 percent remain independent forward,” said President and CEO of Star of Hope, Hank Rush.

All of this is possible because you have each organization focusing on it’s own individual strength.

“It used to be that everyone had to try to be everything,” said Thibaudeau-Graczyk.

But now, for example, a single resident occupancy may be run by New Hope Housing, while on site support services may come from partners with the Salvation Army, Search Homeless Services and Harris Health.

And this approach is working. It may actually be the city’s growth and revitalization that’s responsible for any perception that it’s not.

“A lot of our development has forced people who were there but weren’t as visible, into more visible and concentrated areas,” said Thibaudeau-Graczyk.

The count by Coalition for the Homeless has dropped from over 8,500 to a little over 3,400 in just 6 years and about 1,100 hundred are unsheltered.

“When I go out and do outreach on the streets and in encampments and I’m not seeing the same faces every time or the faces that I used to see in the day shelter that I ran. I now see when I go and visit a housing place and I’m like ‘hey Robert! It’s great to see you here,’” said Thibaudeau-Graczyk.

As success stories roll in, there’s still a new at-risk person or family just starting their struggle through homelessness  but the framework in Houston is working – to make sure the street isn’t their final destination.

Eva Thibaudeau-Graczyk is currently the Programs Director at Coalition for the Homeless, and she's served Houston's homeless population for more than 20 years in varying capacities.  Here are additional insights she shared during her interview for this story.