Pandemic cited as cause of homelessness for some in Houston

March 24, 2021 GMT

HOUSTON (AP) — An annual count of the Houston area’s homeless population found that about 15% of people surveyed said they were without a fixed address because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Many of them said they lost a job or hours at work, or were evicted due to the pandemic, according to the Point in Time survey released Wednesday by Houston’s Coalition for the Homeless.

The coalition’s annual survey was conducted on Jan. 19. It found that 3,055 individuals were homeless in three counties in the Houston area: Harris, where Houston is located, Fort Bend and Montgomery.

“While we don’t yet know the full scope of how many people have fallen — or will fall — into homelessness due to the pandemic, we believe that without the Community COVID Housing Program, the number of people experiencing homelessness in our region on the night of our count would very likely have been higher,” said Michael Nichols, president and CEO of the coalition.

The coalition, the city of Houston and Harris County launched the $65 million Community COVID Housing Program in October to help people experiencing or at risk of experiencing homelessness due to the economic impact of the pandemic.

As of earlier this month, the program had helped nearly 1,500 people with short-term rental assistance or with help maintaining or regaining housing.

Millions of Americans lost their jobs due to the pandemic, or lost income as their work hours were reduced, leaving many unable to pay rent, buy food or afford utility bills.

It’s unclear how many people across the U.S. have become homeless as a result of the pandemic.

“We know that it increased; we just don’t know those numbers,” Housing and Urban Development Secretary Marcia Fudge said during a White House briefing last week.

Eviction moratoriums by federal, state and local governments as well as relief funds have provided some protections, allowing people to keep their homes. But evictions have continued.

About one-third of U.S. households say they’re behind on rent or mortgage payments and likely to face eviction or foreclosure in the next two months, according to data collected by the U.S. Census Bureau. In the Houston metro area, that number increases to 42%.

Since the World Health Organization declared the pandemic on March 11, 2020, more than 26,300 eviction cases have been filed in Harris County, according to January Advisors, a local data science consulting firm tracking the caseload.

Of 27 U.S. cities tracked by the Eviction Lab at Princeton University, Houston had the third-most eviction filings in the country since March 15, 2020. Only New York and Phoenix have more.

The Coalition for the Homeless said it believes the ongoing national eviction moratorium prevented more people in the Houston region from falling into homelessness.

Texas reported more than 3,658 new coronavirus cases on Wednesday. Cases and hospitalizations in the state have dropped in recent weeks. The virus has killed more than 47,000 people in Texas, the third-highest toll in the nation.


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