On a single night in January, 23,548 people experienced homelessness in Texas, a 1.8 percent increase over last year, according to the latest national estimate by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
Eric Samuels is president and CEO of the Texas Homeless Network, an organization which helps compile homelessness counts statewide. Samuels said he doesn't think the homelessness increase is very significant, but that increasing rents in areas like Dallas and Austin may be partly to blame.
"I think the high rent communities are having a tougher time keeping very low income people in housing,” Samuels said. “Those are the areas where a deeply poor household is more susceptible to falling into homelessness."
Samuels said there was some loss of HUD funding for housing in the past year, which may have also contributed to the increase in homelessness.
Over the last decade, however, Texas has made strides in combating homelessness. HUD reports that the state's numbers fell more than 40 percent between 2007 and 2017. Those successes, Samuels said, can have an impact on nationwide numbers.
“The successes that we have in Texas really move the needle on a national scale, and that's something we should be taking advantage of,” said Samuels. “We have done a great job of reducing homelessness over the past 5 to 10 years. We have the people in place and the drive, and if we are able to get the resources I think we can really make some big strides in the next few years.”
Samuels credits the actions of continuum of care planning groups around the state for the overall decrease in homelessness over the last five years. He said they are trying to make use of all available subsidies for low-income people, especially those who are medically fragile and in need of affordable housing.
“Our continuum of care leads are also doing a great job recruiting landlords and apartment owners to work with them to place people in their units with these subsidies,” he said.
Samuels said that further steps include the removal of housing barriers for people with criminal histories, the creation of more permanent supportive housing units, and the continued education of landlords.
Though home prices in San Antonio aren’t as steep as in places like Austin and Dallas, local homelessness advocates are preparing for increases.
“I think locally we all recognize that we’re not there yet, we’re not fully in that situation. But it’s coming,” said Katie Vela, a program manager with the South Alamo Regional Alliance for the Homeless. “We need to start getting creative about permanent housing options in light of what we’re seeing in other big cities.”
In San Antonio, the point-in-time homelessness count for January 2017 was just over 2,743 people.
Vela said her organization has had trouble reaching the chronically homeless population with programs and services.
"We saw an increase in that population last year. It went from 527 in 2016 to 651, which is a 20 percent increase," she said. “So we’ve been targeting that population a lot for the last year and trying to bring together the right partners to house them and keep them housed with the services that they need.”
The next major homelessness count will take place in January 2018.