“One steamy morning last July, Ana Rausch commandeered a shady corner of a parking lot on the northwest side of Houston. Downing a jumbo iced coffee, she issued brisk orders to a dozen outreach workers toting iPads. Her attention was fixed on a highway underpass nearby, where a handful of people were living in tents and cardboard lean-tos. As a vice president of Houston’s Coalition for the Homeless, Ms. Rausch was there to move them out.
I had come to watch the process and, more broadly, to see Houston’s approach to homelessness, which has won a lot of praise. At first, I couldn’t figure out why this particular underpass had been colonized. The sound of trucks revving their engines ricocheted against the concrete walls like rifle shots; and most of Houston’s homeless services were miles away. But then Ms. Rausch’s team, and a few camp residents, pointed out the nearby fast food outlets, the Shell station with a convenience store, and the Planet Fitness, where a $10 monthly membership meant access to showers and outlets for charging phones.
It also wasn’t initially visible what distinguished this encampment clearance from the ones in cities like Los Angeles and Austin, where the number of homeless people has been skyrocketing along with frustrations. The difference couldn’t be seen because it had already happened. For more than a month, Ms. Rausch and her colleagues had been coordinating with Harris County officials, as well as with the mayor’s office and local landlords. They had visited the encampment and talked to people living there, so that now, as tents were being dismantled, the occupants could move directly into one-bedroom apartments, some for a year, others for longer. In other words, the people living in the encampment would not be consigned to homeless shelters, cited for trespassing or scattered to the winds, but, rather, given a home.”