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Pittsburgh looks to Houston's 'housing first' policy in addressing homelessness

Pittsburgh looks to Houston's 'housing first' policy in addressing homelessness
Pittsburgh looks to Houston's 'housing first' policy in addressing homelessness 02:50

PITTSBURGH (KDKA) - Under orders from City Council to address the homeless crisis, Mayor Ed Gainey says the plan is still in the works. But this week he revealed that another city is providing a successful model in getting thousands of people into permanent housing, and he intends to implement that model here.

In attempting to solve the homeless crisis, the mayor is looking to the city of Houston, Texas, which says it has taken 25,000 homeless people off the street and gotten them into safe housing in the past decade.

As a first step, the mayor says he wants to see for himself. He and Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald will be touring the tent encampments along the riverfront. 

"Me and the county executive will be walking the trails because as I said, the assessment is the way we get a better handle on that," Gainey said. 

The two leaders will soon be announcing their plan to get homeless people out of their tents and into some kind of permanent housing and looking to the city of Houston, Texas for guidance.

"Couple of things we've already discussed is the Houston model, which you and I have discussed," Gainey said. "We're planning on going to New York to take a closer look at the Houston model." 

Years back, Houston adopted a coordinated approach involving the city and both homeless and faith-based organizations in a program called "housing first," getting homeless people into one-bedroom apartments even before they've addressed problems such as addiction and mental illness, dealing with those issue once they are off the street.

The Houston plan is not cheap. The city currently budgets $100 million providing services and getting housing. But currently, Pittsburgh and Allegheny county have about $50 million a year in dedicated funds for the homeless which could be leveraged.

A new shelter under construction downtown is expected to take about 100 people off the street when it opens this fall, but the goal would be to get those people and hundreds of others into more permanent housing.

"We need more housing," Gainey said. "What we need to do in order to get more housing, it's not planned all the way together. We're going to begin to work on it."

The mayor says city and county supervisors will be traveling to New York City, which is implementing the Houston plan, to see how it's done.

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