Resurgence: Central Houston Overcoming Covid, Homelessness and Empty Sidewalks

HOUSTON – (By Dale King, Realty News Report) – Members of Central Houston Inc. put aside the woes inflicted by coronavirus last week to celebrate the good news and positive outcomes that took place in the Bayou City’s urban core during 2020.

COVID forced Central Houston Inc. — the consortium of downtown business leaders who first banded together for the city’s benefit in 1983 —  to conduct their annual meeting “virtually” to report on how Houston has stayed upbeat and progressive despite an all-encompassing viral epidemic.

And while Mayor Sylvester Turner said he preferred “the energy of a ballroom full of people,” the guest speaker moved forward with high praise for Central Houston, not only for their assistance with his $7 billion North Houston Highway Improvement Project, but for help and support with the city’s struggle against homelessness that has outdone many other large communities in the nation.

That topic was also the focus of the keynote address by locally and nationally known expert in the remediation of homeless issues, Mandy Chapman Semple.

Jonathan Brinsden, chair of Central Houston Inc. and CEO of Midway, a Houston-based real estate investment and development firm, summed up the perfect storm of 2020. “Houston, the downtown and COVID-19 collided with the already volatile energy market.”

The impact was enough to render the city center a ghost town as office workers, restaurant operators, retailers and shop owners headed for home. But Central Houston, an ensemble of folks who “get things done,” said Brinsden, have worked with other interested parties to revive the community. The resurgence has begun.

“More than 10,000 people are living downtown, and more than 70,000 live within a two-mile radius, with more residential construction coming. We have 28 hotels with nearly 8,400 rooms; more than 400 food and beverage options.”

“Many dollars have been spent on new office construction and renovation and many public spaces used by everyone, and more are on the way. Yes, COVID had an impact,” he said. “But we feel confident about people’s safe return to a downtown that is a more exciting place.”

Brinsden, also a member of the Coalition for the Homeless, has thrown his lot in with Semple and Mayor Turner to rectify this skewed segment of society.

Continuing his address, the mayor said: “Earlier this summer, Harris County Court Judge Lina Hidalgo and I announced a homeless initiative.” Facing the pandemic’s threat to the security of residents’ dwellings, “the city and many, many partners” crafted a $65 million “wraparound” program with services that include:

  • The ability to serve 5,000 homeless or near homeless.
  • Rapid rehousing and rental assistance to 1,700 newly homeless.
  • A permanent supply of housing for 1,000
  • Diverting 2,000 out of shelters by providing up to three months of rent.
  • Expanding mental health case management
  • Addressing unsheltered homeless living on the street.

Mayor Turner said construction of an emergency shelter for 130 homeless will begin in spring 2021. “Services will also be offered at the site.”

Semple, Houston’s first special assistant for homeless for 3 ½ years, addressed the audience not only about the problem of being homeless, but also the impact of living without shelter on a person’s psyche.

“Homelessness represents the walking, talking, sleep-on-your-sidewalk manifestation of failure,” she said. “We often have a visceral realization of homelessness – pity, disgust, outrage.”

She said homelessness is “not just a lack of housing, but a failure of our social system. People fall through the cracks; no, the gaping holes in our system.”

Some communities handle the situation better. Houston has lowered its homeless numbers from 8,500 to about 4,000 in 10 years. She said the problem of people “streaming into the streets” in West Coast metros like LA and San Francisco has drawn national attention.

Perhaps most important, dealing with the homeless requires a change of strategy as well as a difference in philosophy. “There is no simple factor for homelessness,” said Semple, adding that the pandemic, financial woes and “instability which is not your choice” can cause havoc in a person’s home or mind.

“Unfortunately, we don’t see the value of these programs until we are stepping over people who are sleeping on newly paved sidewalks. The answer is not just emergency shelters, its comprehensive rehousing solutions.”

“We used to think that charitable organizations providing food, shelter and services was enough. The harsh reality is these can’t do it alone.”

In her speaking segment, Judge Hidalgo also cited the need to bring compassionate care to the homeless. She praised Central Houston Inc. for its innovation and ambition. “With your vision – and progress-making in the addition of public spaces, transportation and development, you keep us dynamic.”

“The downtown will continue to be an engine of progress and growth. We will come out stronger on the other side of this.”

Other priorities of Central Houston  include:

  • Maximizing civic enhancements related to the North Houston Highway Improvement Project, in active collaboration with our partners and our PLAN Downtown.
  • Advancing a re-envisioned regional commuter system and improved multi-model functionality of downtown’s street grid in the context of advancing technologies.
  • Facilitating the creation of a technology and Innovation Corridor that includes the Downtown Launchpad, The Ion in Midtown (4201 Main) and the Texas Medical Center.
  • Initiating a three-year plan to recruit new employers to downtown and improve two-way communications about the benefits and opportunities of being in the central city.
  • Supporting the community’s effort to end homelessness, known locally as “The Way Home.”

Nov. 2, 2020 Realty News Report Copyright 2020


File: Resurgence: Central Houston Overcoming


File: Jonathan Brinsden, Lina Hidalgo. Sylvester Turner. Resurgence: Central Houston Overcoming Covid, Homelessness and Empty Sidewalks

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