Expert Q & A | March 2, 2007
President and CEO, Coalition for the Homeless of Houston/Harris County
What is the newest issue emerging in homelessness policy?
I think that across the country, communities are looking at existing systems and resources and how to target them more effectively. Existing systems—mainstream, homeless services, healthcare services, etc.—all play a major role in the effort to end homelessness. The city of Houston believes that these systems can work effectively if there is a manager of sorts who can coordinate those efforts and measure the impact they have on individuals trying to exit homelessness. Essentially, it is taking the Continuum of Care and stretching it to incorporate the resources of other systems to make one comprehensive system to address and eventually end homelessness.
What issue in homelessness policy should everyone be reminded of?
The importance of safety net programs, such as housing and income supplements and healthcare, and the need to ensure that they are fully funded. These programs go a long way of preventing families and individuals from becoming homeless and also, provide protection for those who have recently exited homelessness.
How did you start working in the field of homelessness (or housing)?
I started 15 years ago working for an agency that provided employment assistance to people who did not have a lot of income or no income at all. I worked as a counselor to at-risk youth, then with people who were leaving the welfare rolls. After moving back to Houston, I immediately started working with homeless veterans, and have been working with people that are homeless every since.
Where do you draw your inspiration?
I just look back at when I was growing up and remember how many times we were a days pay away from being homeless ourselves and how the kindness of family and strangers went a long way to keep us housed. Also, since I’ve worked with so many individuals and families that have successfully exited homelessness and when they see me, they remember me and thank me for helping them and not looking down on them. I think every person has value.
Why do you think ending homelessness is possible?
We as a society have been able to generate cures for some of the most atrocious diseases, go to places that are out of this world, and invent items that are essential to our way of life. In Houston, our community housed well over 200,000 people who evacuated from the areas affected by Hurricane Katrina because our community and our leaders said we should make sure these families and individuals are housed. With that backdrop, I am confident we can do the same for people who are currently homeless.
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