AUSTIN (KXAN) — Dianna Grey, the City of Austin’s new homeless strategy officer, said she is looking to another Lone Star State city for advice on addressing the homeless population: Houston.

From 2010 to 2019, Houston was able to reduce its homeless count by 55% by investing in permanent supportive housing, much like the City of Austin’s motel conversion strategy.

“The context is very similar. The resources are similar. We have a lot to learn from them and have already begun implementing some of those strategies,” Grey said.

On Thursday, Austin City Council purchased a fourth hotel — the Candlewood Suites in northwest Austin — to add 80 units to its permanent supportive housing supply. Here, individuals experiencing homelessness will receive daily support services.

The vote was preceded by protests from business owners and neighbors in the area who questioned the dollar amount — the city spent $9.5 million on the facility with an estimated operating cost of $2.1 million annually — and the impact on the community.

Marc Eichenbaum, a special assistant to Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner on homeless initiatives, said the decision was made in 2012 for the city and county to collaborate with the nonprofit, philanthropic and business communities to invest heavily in permanent supportive housing.
Eichenbaum has spoken with Grey about ways the City of Austin can replicate the model.

“We’ve housed more than 19,000 individuals with services and housing,” Eichenbaum said. “It takes both. You can’t just put somebody in housing with services, and it’s not very successful just providing services on the streets. Of the 19,000, more than 90% of them stayed housed two years after their placement.”

Eichenbaum said the City of Houston has saved money by investing in permanent supportive housing, too. The chronically homeless population was costing taxpayers $103 million a year, he said.

“We were able to cut those costs by more than 70% by paying for long-term housing with wrap-around supportive services,” Eichenbaum said. “It’s fiscally conservative. It is a wise financial investment to permanently house your homeless.”