Midtown Houston’s Proactive Approach to Housing and Homelessness

In the heart of the city, Midtown Houston is reframing the approach to supporting its homeless residents, demonstrating a commitment to compassionate and practical solutions. Midtown’s approach, termed a “therapeutic nudge,” aims to guide those experiencing homelessness towards available social services, often starting from an interaction that might otherwise have been purely penal.

When individuals receive citations in Midtown, these aren’t just slips of paper, but potential gateways to help. Before the local court, a judge offers them a choice between paying a fine or engaging with social services readily available from the courthouse. This initiative aims not just to penalize but to proactively connect individuals to the support they need through the Homeless Court” within the City of Houston Municipal Court.

In a pioneering move, Midtown has implemented a policy where outreach services are always the first step before any ticketing or law enforcement action is taken. Local security personnel, trained to identify whether someone is unhoused, use the “See Something, Say Something” cards to direct individuals to necessary resources. These teams, including the Midtown SEARCH Homeless Services and the HPD Homeless Outreach Team, are adept at assessing needs—whether those are for mental health support, substance abuse treatment, or immediate shelter.

Jaime Giraldo, Director of Public Safety of the Midtown Management District, joined the organization in 2021 and soon after established new best practices with a focus on developing and implementing a proactive strategy to coordinate housing opportunities for those in need. SEARCH uses The Homeless Information Management System (HMIS), a tool that tracks each interaction and service rendered, ensuring no one slips through the cracks on the way to securing Permanent Supportive Housing (PSH). Since launching in November of 2020, the Midtown SEARCH Homeless Outreach Team of specialist has helped 513 unhoused Houstonians find housing and enrolled 2,066 in their services programs. 

Recent data underscores the urgency of Midtown’s mission. According to The Way Home Continuum Care 2023 Way Homeless Count & Survey Analysis, for 42% of unsheltered persons, this was their first experience of homelessness, slightly up from 40% in 2022. Understanding the length of homelessness is crucial; 41% have been without shelter for three years or longer, while 12% were newly homeless. These insights help tailor the support offered, whether it’s securing permanent supportive housing or connecting individuals with job resources following job losses or income reduction, which one-third attribute as their primary cause of homelessness. Others point to the COVID-19 pandemic or natural disasters like Hurricane Harvey as pivotal moments that led them to the streets.

To effectively address these varied needs, Midtown partners with or directs individuals to several key community organizations, including:

Midtown is also actively working to disrupt common perceptions about homelessness. Amidst a backdrop of increasing wealth gaps and varied paths leading individuals to homelessness—such as job loss, health crises, or domestic violence—Midtown’s strategy emphasizes understanding over judgment. The community is encouraged to see past stereotypes and recognize the complex factors contributing to each person’s situation.

For information on public safety and community outreach, join the monthly virtual Public Safety Committee meetings held on the third Tuesday of each month.