What is the Coalition for the Homeless of Houston/Harris County?

The Coalition for the Homeless of Houston/Harris County is a private, nonprofit organization whose mission is to provide leadership in the development, advocacy, and coordination of community strategies to prevent and end homelessness.

The Coalition was established in 1982, incorporated as a 501(c) 3 in 1988, and has evolved to be the lead agency coordinating the community response to homelessness in Houston. Under the Homeless Emergency Assistance and Rapid Transition to Housing (HEARTH) Act passed in 2009, an entire community, rather than individual service providers, must demonstrate success in preventing and reducing homelessness. In 2011, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) named Houston as a priority community. This designation recognizes the great need to transform Houston’s existing homeless service system and the tremendous opportunity to make significant advances due to the commitment of homeless service agencies and the contributions of key community stakeholders.

Although the Coalition does not provide any direct services to clients, it serves as the backbone organization to many other groups that do. The Coalition serves those who serve the homeless through research, project management, system capacity building, and advocacy.

Today, the major project of the Coalition is serving as lead agency for the Houston/Harris County Continuum of Care (CoC). This work creates an improved homeless service system that more effectively provides services, support, and housing to all sub-populations within the Houston area’s homeless community, with a primary focus on moving individuals and families out of homelessness.

The ultimate goal of the Houston/Harris County CoC is a homeless services system that achieves reduction in new instance of, length of, and returns to homelessness, and meets the varying needs of homeless sub-populations such as unaccompanied youth, veterans, and families with children.

How is the Coalition working to prevent and end homelessness?

The Coalition works to prevent and end homelessness through four programs:

  • Research
  • Project Management
  • System Capacity Building
  • Public Policy

The Coalition works to create the system in which area homeless service providers, government agencies, and other community partners can provide efficient and unduplicated services to the Houston area homeless community.

The largest project of the Coalition is serving as lead agency to the Houston/Harris County Continuum of Care (CoC). Other projects include: Homeless Court, the Homeless Management Information System (HMIS), the annual Houston Homeless Count, and Community Voice Mail.

The Coalition also partners with the United Way 2-1-1 Help Line to provide information and referral services, both for homeless service providers and homeless individuals.

What is the HMIS?

The HMIS (short for Homeless Management Information System) is a computerized data collection tool specifically designed to capture client-level, system-wide information over time on the characteristics and services needs of men, women and children experiencing homelessness. HMIS allows the aggregation of client-level data across homeless service agencies to generate unduplicated counts and service patterns of clients served.

The Department of Housing and Urban Development’s (HUD) National Data and Technical Standards establish baseline standards for participation, data collection, privacy and security. Implementation of HMIS is a requirement for receipt of HUD McKinney-Vento funding.

The Coalition for the Homeless of Houston/Harris County/Fort Bend County area is the local HMIS lead agency.

Click here for more information on the HMIS.

What is the CoC Provider Forum?

Under Continuum of Care (CoC) regulations, decision makers of homeless service providers are expected to be involved in discussions and recommendations made to the Steering Committee. The CoC Steering Committee approved the creation of quarterly CoC Provider Forums where these discussions can take place. Click here for more information.

What is the Lunch & Learn Series?

For providers looking for content similar to what was provided at the Homeless Services Coordinating Council, the Coalition for the Homeless offers a Lunch & Learn series. The Lunch & Learn series aims to educate local service agency staff on topics relevant to homelessness in our community as well as to provide networking opportunities.

For more information on the Lunch & Learn series and how to RSVP, click here or email Gary Grier at ggrier@homelesshouston.org.

What is Homeless Court?

Homeless Court (HC), established in 2006, is a program coordinated by the Coalition that enables homeless defendants to resolve outstanding class C misdemeanor offenses within the City of Houston’s Municipal Court system. Houston’s HC is a partnership among city courts, the Coalition, local shelters and service providers allowing homeless defendants to meet traditional sentence requirements (often fines, public work service, and/or time in jail) through service program activities such as chemical dependency meetings, computer literacy classes and job skills training. Referrals are initiated by homeless service provider case managers and submitted to the Coalition.

Click here from more information.

What is the Consumer Input Forum?

The Consumer Input Forum is a quarterly meeting where currently and formerly homeless individuals can meet and learn more about updates and improvements that are being made to the homeless service delivery system in Houston, as well as provide insight and firsthand knowledge from their experiences, which are used to make recommendations to the CoC Steering Committee.

What is the annual Houston Homeless Count and Needs Assessment?

The annual Houston Homeless Count is a project managed by the Coalition and is required of all communities receiving HUD funding. The annual Houston Homeless Count engages more than 500 volunteers to conduct the count and survey our community’s homeless population during one night in January each year. In the spring every one to two years, in-depth needs assessment interviews are conducted with representatives from homeless sub-populations. The goal of this program is to guide strategic changes to the homeless service system by ensuring that current information is available on the scope of homelessness in our community and the current needs and gaps in services.

Click here  from more information.

How can organizations that provide services to the homeless get connected with the Coalition?

The best way for homeless service agencies to get connected to the Coalition is by signing up for our e-newsletter service which provides Coalition-sponsored education and networking opportunities, advocacy updates, and information on the Houston/Harris County Continuum of Care (CoC). Click here to sign up for our newsletters.

Agencies can also get connected with CoC workgroups, which focus on specific homeless sub-populations.

Click here for more information on CoC Workgroups.

How can I help?

Homelessness remains an enormous challenge, but it’s one we believe can be solved with your help. The major ways that you can help are by donating money, advocating for the homeless and performing volunteer service.

What is the Houston/Harris County Continuum of Care (CoC)?

According to the National Alliance to End Homelessness, “A Continuum of Care (CoC) is a regional or local planning body that coordinates housing and services funding for homeless families and individuals.” This concept is based on U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) requirements.

The Houston/Harris County CoC encompasses all of Houston, Harris County and Fort Bend County, and it serves two main purposes:

  • To develop a long term strategic plan and manage a year-round planning effort that addresses:
    • The identified needs of homeless individuals and households
    • The availability and accessibility of existing housing and services; and
    • The opportunities for linkages with mainstream housing and services resources.
  • To prepare an application of McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act Competitive grants.


What is the role of the Coalition in the Houston/Harris County Continuum of Care (CoC)?

The Coalition serves as lead agency for the Houston/Harris County CoC. The chief duties of the lead agency include:

  • Staffing the CoC Steering Committee
  • Producing planning materials
  • Coordinating any needs/gaps assessments
  • Collecting and reporting performance data
  • Monitoring program performance
  • Coordinating resources
  • Integrating activities and facilitating collaboration
  • Preparing the collaborative application for CoC funds
  • Building awareness
  • Recruiting stakeholders
  • Managing the Homeless Management Information System (HMIS)
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What is HMIS?

HMIS stands for Homeless Management Information System. HMIS is a software application designated to record and store client-level data, including the characteristics and service needs of the homeless community. It was developed in a response to Congress’s request for unduplicated information about how the funds appropriated for homeless programs are being spent. Congress is not only interested in fiscal responsibility, but also wants to know who the homeless are (as a group) as well as understand the outcomes of the programs assisting them. In March 2010, HUD updated the standards relating to data collection and reporting.

Is my Agency required to use HMIS?

All agencies receiving federal funds from the McKinney-Vento HUD Program for use in serving the homeless community are required to participate in the HMIS. Starting in 2011, Emergency Solutions Grant (ESG) and Supportive Services for Veteran Families (SSVF) providers are also required to participate. Additionally, your agency may have to use the HMIS if you operate certain programs funded by the VA, HHS, SAMHSA, or other government and private funders. However, domestic violence victim service providers are prohibited from entering client data in the HMIS because of the federal law (VAWA).

Can my Agency still use HMIS even though it is not required?

Yes! We would be very pleased to have your agency participate in HMIS if you provide services and/or shelter to the homeless community. The more information we have the better. The information helps to provide a more accurate picture of the homeless community in the Houston/Harris County/Ft. Bend County area. If your agency is interested in participating in HMIS, please send an inquiry to HMIS@homelesshouston.org.

What are the benefits to a homeless service provider of using HMIS?

Having access to the HMIS represents a strategic advantage for service providers. The HMIS software we use allows multi-level client data sharing between organizations, as well as client case coordination and electronic referrals. Our locally developed information sharing model can prevent service duplications and enable collaboration between various homeless service providers, while limiting access to sensitive data. Client privacy is very important to us.

In addition to the standard data collection and reporting functionalities, the HMIS software includes a comprehensive case management module, bed management, performance measurement tools, ad-hoc reporting, software customization options, etc.

Lastly, providers already in HMIS are better positioned to apply for future funding opportunities, as many national and local funders now require HMIS participation.

What HMIS software is currently used in Houston/Harris County?

The HMIS software currently used in Houston/Harris County/Ft. Bend County is called ClientTrack. It was developed by ClientTrack, Inc., a privately held company based in Salt Lake City, Utah. ClientTrack software is compliant with the latest HMIS data standards as well as HIPAA privacy standards. For more information about ClientTrack, please visit their website.

If I experience a problem using the HMIS or have general questions, what should I do?

The preferred way to communicate with the Coalition HMIS Support Team is to send an IssueTrak ticket. IssueTrak is a help desk software application available to all active HMIS users. Any questions, requests, or other issues should be submitted through IssueTrak. Every ticket submitted is assigned a tracking number, allowing the HMIS team to effectively address each concern.

For general questions about the HMIS, or if you have problems accessing IssueTrak, please send an email to HMIS@homelesshouston.org.

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How many people are homeless in the Houston area?

Information from the 2014 Houston Homeless Count indicates that on a given night there are approximately 5,351 homeless persons in our area according to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s (HUD) definition of homelessness, including 2,291 people living unsheltered and 3,060 living in sheltered facilities. It is important to note that this number is down 37% from 2011.

An additional 1,525 individuals who self-reported as homeless were in the Harris County Jail on the night of the count, and when added to the total of those defined as homeless by HUD, the total number of homeless individuals in the region is 6,876.

Measured in terms of the total number of persons accessing homeless services in a year, there were 27,728 individuals who accessed some type of homeless service in 2013, as captured by HMIS.

Click here to view the 2014 Homeless Count Executive Summary.

What are the contributing factors to homelessness in the Houston, Harris/Fort Bend County area?

Factors contributing to homelessness in our area are generally the same as those in other areas of the U.S.

Triggers for homelessness in this area during 2011 and 2012 are shown in the chart below. (insert Triggers of Homelessness chart, truncating the list below entry #8 – Changes in family status; rename chart to Major Triggers of Homelessness in the Houston Area)

As you can see, economic conditions are currently playing a large role, with “loss of job” forming the largest category.

In addition, according to the 2012 Needs Assessment Report and 2012 Point In Time Enumeration:

  • Nearly 50% of homeless persons here reported receiving no income, whether from employment, earned income, veterans or disability benefits or other similar sources.
  • 34% of people living on the streets were categorized as chronically homeless.
  • More than 25% of homeless persons here reported “the street” as the place they stayed the longest during the last 12 months.

Houston has been named a Priority Community by HUD. What does that mean?

Passage of the 2009 Homeless Emergency Assistance and Rapid Transition to Housing (HEARTH) Act put into place requirements to coordinate various HUD and other federal funds to prevent and end homelessness.

To aid certain communities in the implementation of the HEARTH Act, HUD designated ten Priority Communities across the country. The Houston/Harris County/Fort Bend County Continuum of Care was designated as one of these HUD Priority Communities.

This designation was based on the high rate of homelessness, especially chronic homelessness, in this area combined with the potential to improve systemic performance.

How can a homeless person or family get help here?

People who are homeless in this area can access this interactive map showing homeless service providers and their contact information.

In addition, a variety of resources are located here.

How does Houston compare with the rest of Texas in terms of homelessness?

The most recent data from our 2014 Homeless Count indicates that there are approximately 5,300 homeless individuals in Houston, Harris County, and Fort Bend County on any given night.

Here are comparable figures for other large Texas cities:

  • Austin/Round Rock: 1,987
  • Dallas/Fort Worth/Arlington: 5,939
  • San Antonio: 2,892

How is Houston doing compared to other major U.S. cities in terms of helping the homeless?

Though we still have a lot of work ahead of us to prevent and end homelessness in our region, Houston has continued to make great strides in addressing homelessness over the last few years.

For the first time in several years, Houston is no longer one of the 10 cities in the U.S. with the largest homeless populations. Below are the comparative figures for those 10 cities. All data is taken from the 2014 Annual Homeless Assessment Report to Congress, which reflect the number of homeless persons on a given night in the below Continuums of Care (CoCs):


New York City, NY 67,810
Los Angeles City & County CA 34,393
Las Vegas/Clark County, NV 9,417
Seattle/King County, WA 8,949
San Diego City and County, CA 8,506
District of Columbia 7,748
San Jose/Santa Clara City and County, CA 7,567
Metropolitan Denver, CO 6,621
San Francisco, CA 6,408
Chicago, IL 6,287


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What does being “homeless” really mean?

While probably everyone has some idea of what it means to be homeless, in the context of service delivery and the development of strategies to prevent and end homelessness, it’s important to be precise.

According to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), there are four categories of homelessness:

Literally Homeless – An individual or family who lacks a fixed, regular, and adequate nighttime residence, meaning:

  • Has a primary nighttime residence that is a public or private place not meant for human habitation;
  • Is living in a publicly or privately operated shelter designated to provide temporary living arrangements (including congregate shelters, transitional housing, and hotels and motels paid for by charitable organizations or by federal, state and local government programs); or
  • Is exiting an institution where (s)he has resided for 90 days or less and who resided in an emergency shelter or place not meant for human habitation immediately before entering that institution.

Imminent Risk of Homelessness – An individual or family who will imminently lose their primary nighttime residence, provided that:

  • Residence will be lost within 14 days of the date of application for homeless assistance;
  • No subsequent residence has been identified; and
  • The individual or family lacks the resources or support networks needed to obtain other permanent housing.

Homeless under other Federal statutes – Unaccompanied youth under 25 years of age, or families with children and youth, who do not otherwise qualify as homeless under this definition, but who:

  • Are defined as homeless under the other listed federal statutes;
  • Have not had a lease, ownership interest, or occupancy agreement in permanent housing during the 60 days prior to the homeless assistance application;
  • Have experienced persistent instability as measured by two moves or more during the preceding 60 days; and
  • Can be expected to continue in such status for an extended period of time due to special needs or barriers

Fleeing/Attempting to Flee Domestic Violence – Any individual or family who:

  • Is fleeing, or is attempting to flee, domestic violence;
  • Has no other residence; and
  • Lacks the resource or support networks to obtain other permanent housing.

How many people are homeless in Texas?

According to the most recent Annual Homeless Assessment Report from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), there were 19,177 persons homeless in Texas in 2014, meaning that approximately 7 out of every 10,000 persons in Texas are homeless (down from 12 out of every 10,000 in 2013).”

How many people are homeless in the U.S.?

According to the most recent Annual Homeless Assessment Report from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), there are more than 578,000 people experiencing homelessness on any given night in this country.

What are the major contributing factors to homelessness in the U.S.?

While circumstances can vary, the main reason people experience homelessness is because they cannot find housing they can afford. It is the scarcity of affordable housing in the United States, particularly in more urban areas where homelessness is more prevalent, that is behind their inability to acquire or maintain housing. (Source: National Alliance to End Homelessness)

A variety of additional factors can contribute to the problem; chief among these are poverty, a decline in levels of public assistance, lack of affordable health care, mental illness and addictive disorders.

How does homelessness affect families and children?

According to the National Alliance to End Homelessness, families experiencing homelessness are similar to other, housed families living in poverty. In fact, many poor families—homeless or not—share similar characteristics: they are usually headed by a single woman with limited education; are usually young; and have high rates of domestic violence and mental illness.

Some families living in poverty fall into homelessness, usually due to some unforeseen financial challenge, such as a death in the family, a lost job, or an unexpected bill, creating a situation where the family cannot maintain housing.

Fortunately, homelessness among families is typically not a long-term experience. About 75% of families who enter shelter are able to quickly exit with little or no assistance, and never return. Some families, however, require more intensive assistance.

One of the most important strategies for lifting families from homelessness is rapid re-housing. The more quickly families are connected with permanent housing, the more quickly their homelessness can be solved and their lives can return to relative stability. Similarly, prevention strategies—in the form of cash assistance, housing subsidies, and other services—can avert homelessness before it starts.

How are services for the homeless funded?

The federal government’s primary response to homelessness is embodied in the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Grants program within the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). It funds proven solutions to homelessness. The bipartisan HEARTH Act of 2009 reauthorized the program to increase its emphasis on using outcomes and research to drive programmatic decisions.

The Homeless Assistance Grants appropriations account funds two programs: the competitive Continuum of Care (CoC) program and the Emergency Solutions Grant (ESG) block grant program. The HEARTH Act consolidated several previous programs into the CoC program, which funds proven interventions, like cost-effective permanent supportive housing for chronically homeless people. The ESG block grant funds emergency shelter and adds a new focus on the cost-efficient interventions of homelessness prevention and rapid re-housing.

I notice a lot of abbreviations and acronyms in information about homelessness. Do you have definitions for these?

Here are explanations of some of the most commonly used abbreviations and acronyms that are relevant to local efforts to prevent and end homelessness:

AHAR Annual Housing Availability Report
APR Annual Performance Report (Annual Progress Report for homeless programs)
CDBG Community Development Block Grant (CPD Program)
CHDO Community and Housing Development Organization. Non-profit housing provider receiving minimum of 15% of HOME Investment Partnership funds
CoC Continuum of Care approach to assistance to the homeless
Continuum of Care Federal program stressing permanent solutions to Homelessness
Con Plan Consolidated Plan, a locally developed plan for housing assistance and urban development under the Community Development Block Grant and other CPD programs
CPD Community Planning and Development (HUD Office of)
Data Warehouse Information system storing HUD program and operational data
EC Enterprise Communities
ESG Emergency Solutions Grants (CPD program; formerly Emergency Shelter Grants)
Fair Housing Act 1968 act (amended in 1974 and 1988) providing HUD Secretary with fair housing enforcement and
investigation responsibilities
FEMA Federal Emergency Management Administration
FHA Federal Housing Administration (HUD Office of Housing)
FHAP Fair Housing Assistance Program (FHEO program). Program assisting State/local govt with process fair housing complaints.
GPRA Government Performance and Results Act. Requires Federal Agencies to establish performance
standards and report on results.
HEARTH Act Homeless Emergency Assistance and Rapid Transition to Housing Act
HMIS Homeless Management Information System
HOME Home Investment Partnerships (CPD program)
HOPWA Housing Opportunities for Persons with AIDS (CPD program)
HUD U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development
LIHTC Low Income Housing Tax Credit
MOU Memorandum of Understanding
NOFA (HUD) Notice of Funding Availability
PHA Public Housing Authority
PSH Permanent Supportive Housing
PULSE The Homelessness PULSE project
RFP Request for Proposals. Used to solicit proposals for contracts under the negotiated procurement method.
Section 8 Housing Assistance Payment Program (Housing and Community Development Act of 1974)
Section 202 Loans for construction/rehab of housing for the elderly or handicapped
Section 202/811 Programs for housing assistance to the elderly and people with disabilities
SRO Single-Room Occupancy. Mortgage insurance under Section 221(d) for single room apartments.
Super NOFA HUD’s consolidated approach to issuance of Notices of Funding Availability
TANF Temporary Assistance to Needy Families. Click here for a glossary of terms related to this program.
TDHCA Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs
VA Veterans Affairs (U.S. Department of)

A more extensive list of abbreviations associated with HUD programs is available here


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