HOUSTON (TX) - As Super Bowl 51 approaches, Houston prepares for thousands of tourists to transcend upon the city. While many projects are underway to clean up the downtown area, there's one subject expert say will not be swept under the rug: homelessness.
"There will be absolutely no change in the way our partners, and the partners under The Way Home, are helping people solve homelessness," says Marilyn Brown, the President of Houston's Coalition for the Homeless.
The Coalition for the Homeless partners nearly 100 independent service providers in Harris, Fort Bend and Montgomery Counties to create a network of care for those living on the streets.
In detailing the cities preparations for the big game, Brown said that, "from 2012, members of the Super Bowl Host Committee have sat on the Mayor's Leadership Team on Homelessness and said, 'let's start working now to find permanent solutions.'"
That was the same year the Coalition for the Homeless launched The Way Home, a housing-first service model focused on finding long-term homes for those in crisis. "It's how quickly someone can get put into a permanent housing solution with the level of care to maintain that solution," explained Brown.
Over five years, the agency says they've seen a reduction in the number of homeless on the streets of Houston from over 8,500 a night, to just over 3,600. Brown says their homeless veterans program is so effective, the average time a veteran spends homeless on the streets of Houston is 30 days.
But that's still thousands on the streets of our city each night. So, how can Houstonians help?
Print a resource guide to keep on-hand
The Way Home provides a printable resource guide with a map and list of services where someone can go for assistance. Brown says anyone can print and keep a copy with them to give out if they meet someone in need of support. To download the guide, click here.
Donate to The Way Home and other homeless services
"Money given out in piecemeal can be more effective when it's pooled," explained Brown. She says donations to The Way Home fund go towards housing applications, basic goods for a new home, and other costs associated with getting someone off the street and into a long-term home. Material provided by the program says a donation of only ten dollars can provide personal hygiene items for a recently housed individual.
Organize a drive to collect home items
Consider a drive to collect basic goods someone would need when starting a new home. Items needed for welcome baskets include towels, detergent, basic kitchenware, sheets, cleaning supplies, and other common household goods. To coordinate a drive, contact Renee Cavazos here. Cavazos will assist in getting collected items packaged and delivered to individuals and families being placed in a new home. For a full list of supplies needed, click here.
Don't give to pan handlers
While she recognizes the temptation to give money to those we see on our streets, Brown calls it a temporary band-aid. "The longer someone can maintain or take care of themselves or get enough money for a night, if they are truly homeless, that's a day longer they've managed their homelessness rather than engaged with one of the many partners who can help them solve it," explained Brown, who reminds there is no promise that the person to whom you gave the money is truly homeless. Brown says she worries about human trafficking, where people are placed on the street and forced to gather money for another person or entity.
Don't try to help unless you are a professional
Brown warns against
Of course you can also volunteer at any of their partner programs. For a full list of programs throughout the area, click here.
The coalition emphasized that 75% of our homeless population landed there due to economic struggles like loss of a job or emergency medical bills - things that could happen to you, or me. I have a lot more resources for how you can support