Life and Death in Houston’s Streets

Life and Death in Houston’s Streets

How hard is it to be homeless in Houston?

Very, very hard.

In April, Dateline Houston told you about a new city ordinance restricting food sharing with the homeless. (Look for the story of a group defying the ordinance in the September issue.) In subsequent months, local media have covered several disconnected stories about homelessness here. String them together, and they start to build a picture of life, and death, on the streets of Houston.

A July report from the Coalition for the Homeless of Houston/Harris County said that Houston’s homeless population declined 14 percent from 2011—but this came after a 25 percent increase between 2010 and 2011. That increase triggered the U.S. Department on Housing and Urban Development to name Houston a priority community. The current count is 7,356 homeless, which is a point-in-time count; in other words, it’s the number of homeless that could be located and counted on a single night in January.

But other numbers suggest that far more Houstonians struggle to keep a roof over their heads. This month, the Houston Housing Authority will start accepting applications for housing assistance for the first time in six years. They will accept applications for seven days, August 20 to August 26. As many as 100,000 people are expected to apply during that time, just for a spot in a lottery. The lottery will determine which 20,000 people get a slot on a list, their order determined at random. Of those, about 2,000 households per year will actually get a housing voucher.

With waits for government-assisted housing so lengthy and uncertain, one Houston man got innovative with his plan to find shelter and food. On July 19, Jason Tanner, who is 30 years old and homeless, put a .45-caliber semi-automatic pistol in his pants and walked into the Harris County criminal courthouse.

He approached a deputy on duty and said, “I’m carrying concealed weapons and need to be arrested.” And he was.

He spent the rest of the night safely in the Harris County Jail.