November 18, 2022
Will Janowski

The Cost Estimates of Harris County Services for an Individual Experiencing Homelessness from FY2019 to FY2021

Homelessness is an issue of concern throughout many urban areas in the United States. According to the United States Interagency Council on Homelessness, Texas had an estimated 27,229 individuals experiencing homelessness on any given day as of January 2020.

To understand these trends over time, the US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) prepares an annual assessment report on homelessness compiled from Point-in-Time (PIT) counts taken on a single night collected from states and Continuum of Care (CoC) regions. A Continuum of Care (CoC) is a HUD-defined region created to facilitate coordination among local and state partners in a geographic area with the goal of ending homelessness.

The Point-In-Time count is a key source for both data on homelessness trends for sheltered or unsheltered individuals experiencing homelessness, and data for planning and evaluating the effectiveness of housing programs and homeless services for each region. Figure 1 summarizes Point-In-Time counts for the number of individuals experiencing homelessness for the Harris County, Fort Bend County, and Montgomery County CoC region from 2011 to 2022. For the period analyzed, the number of individuals experiencing homeless decreased by 62%, from 8,471 individuals in 2011 to 3,223 individuals in 2022.

To understand the cost of an individual experiencing homelessness to Harris County, the Analyst Office calculated the maximum utilization costs for an individual experiencing homelessness based on data collected from the federal Homeless Management Information System (HMIS) and ten Harris County partners. The maximum utilization cost is the sum of all annual average utilization costs for all services provided by Harris County to individuals experiencing homelessness. The maximum utilization cost assumes an individual experiencing homelessness uses all services provided by Harris County within a given fiscal year.

The maximum utilization cost to Harris County for an individual 18 years and over experiencing homelessness in FY2021 is $126,132, a 26.6% increase from FY2020 ($99,611). The impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, the addition of services, and newly available funding explain, in part, the increase in the maximum utilization cost. Figure 2 summarizes the annual utilization costs for services across service areas (Community, Criminal Justice, Health, and Mental Health services) and shows the maximum utilization cost for the years analyzed.

Figure 3 shows the maximum utilization cost to Harris County for an individual under 18 years experiencing homelessness is  $116,205 in FY2021, a 41.6% ($82,816) decrease from FY2020 ($199,021). This  analysis adds services from Harris County Juvenile Probation Department and  Harris County Resources for Children and Adults. The number of individuals under 18 years experiencing homelessness and receiving County services is  small, and the change of one participant can yield a considerable shift in  expenditures.