The Sunday Read: ‘How Houston Moved 25,000 People From the Streets Into Homes of Their Own’

Michael Kimmelman, the architecture critic of The New York Times, traveled to Houston to observe an approach to chronic homelessness that has won widespread praise.

Houston, the nation’s fourth-most populous city, has moved more than 25,000 homeless people directly into apartments and houses in the past decade, an overwhelming majority of whom remain housed after two years. What distinguishes Houston is its streamlined process: While other systems built to counter the problem are often marred by bureaucracy, the average wait time in Houston for social housing is 32 days, down from 720 days a decade ago.

This has been achieved through a “housing first” practice: moving the most vulnerable from the streets directly into apartments, instead of shelters, without individuals being required to do a 12-step program, or to find a job.

Delving into the finer details of the process, Kimmelman considers the different logic “housing first” involves. After all, “when you’re drowning, it doesn’t help if your rescuer insists you learn to swim before returning you to shore,” he writes. “You can address your issues once you’re on land. Or not. Either way, you join the wider population of people battling demons behind closed doors.”

The Headway initiative is funded through grants from the Ford Foundation, the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation and the Stavros Niarchos Foundation (SNF), with Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors serving as a fiscal sponsor. The Woodcock Foundation is a funder of Headway’s public square.

The New York Times works with philanthropic organizations that share its belief that editorial independence is crucial to the power and value of its journalism. Funders have no control over the selection, focus of stories or the editing process and do not review stories before publication. The Times retains full editorial control of the Headway initiative.


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Additional production for The Sunday Read was contributed by Emma Kehlbeck, Parin Behrooz, Anna Diamond, Sarah Diamond, Jack D’Isidoro, Elena Hecht, Desiree Ibekwe, Tanya Pérez, Marion Lozano, Naomi Noury, Krish Seenivasan, Corey Schreppel, Saskia Solomon, Margaret Willison, Kate Winslett and Tiana Young. Special thanks to Mike Benoist, Sam Dolnick, Laura Kim, Julia Simon, Lisa Tobin, Blake Wilson and Ryan Wegner.

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