ABOVE: Judge Jeremy L. Brown
Homelessness has been a major issue in many cities across the United States, especially Houston.
There are many contributing factors that lead to homelessness, but a local judge has introduced a pilot program that he hopes will mitigate one of the contributing factors of homelessness – the significant number of eviction cases that come before the court.
Judge Jeremy L. Brown, who serves as Harris County Justice of the Peace for Precinct 7, Place 1, saw a troubling trend he felt needed to be addressed upon his taking the bench in November 2018. Brown found he had a tremendous number of eviction cases that were regularly on his court docket, and as much as he wanted to try and intervene and assist with the issue, he had little to no power, to do so. Brown felt he had to do something about this issue immediately.
Brown helped spearhead the Eviction Prevention Program (EPP), which is a pilot program designed to help low- to moderate-income individuals, residing in his Precinct 7, to prevent the possibility of receiving eviction judgments by facilitating mutually beneficial agreements between the tenants and the landlords who file those evictions.
“Many times, evictions lead to homelessness. I felt it was important to help build an infrastructure to provide equitable access to justice, while also seeking to change people’s lives for the better,” said Brown. “Justice is more than what you find in the courtroom. Not only does this initiative give justice to the individual, it also enhances public safety and the common good.”
The three main components of the pilot program include:
- Connecting qualified clients to homelessness prevention funds;
- Providing households with short-term case management; and
- Compiling and analyzing data to answer these proposed research questions further:
- Which strategies prevent evictions and promote housing stability?
- What eviction prevention strategies (programs, practice, and policy) should Precinct 7 and the community adopt for local replication?
- How can these strategies eventually be implemented county-wide?
The Court Partners of this Eviction Prevention Program pilot initiative include:
- The Way Home, which is the lead entity for the operational aspect of the pilot. The Way Home is a coalition of governmental and nonprofit entities to prevent and end homelessness in Houston, Pasadena, Harris County, Fort Bend County, and Montgomery County, Texas. Currently, The Way Home is comprised of more than 100 partners who are communicating and collaborating to meet all of the needs of those experiencing homelessness in our community.
- Harris County Community Services Department, which will connect qualified clients to homelessness prevention funds and short-term, intensive case management services. This County department is focused on addressing the housing, infrastructure and public service needs of the low to moderate income community in Harris County.
- Texas Southern University’s Urban Research and Resource Center (URRC), which is the lead entity for collecting the data of the pilot. The URRC has two primary collaborators, The Barbara Jordan Mickey Leland School of Public Affairs and the Thurgood Marshall School of Law.
- Barbara Poppe, who is the lead consultant of the pilot. Poppe is the founder of Barbara Poppe and Associates and the former executive director of the United States Interagency Council on Homelessness. Poppe is a nationally recognized expert on homelessness and results-driven public-private partnerships.
According to the 2014 Houston Homeless Count, on a given night there were approximately 5,351 homeless persons in the Greater Houston area according to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s (HUD) definition of homelessness, which included 2,291 people living unsheltered and 3,060 living in sheltered facilities. On top of that, an additional 1,525 individuals who self-reported as homeless were in the Harris County Jail on the night of the count, and when added to the total of those defined as homeless by HUD, the total number of homeless individuals in the Greater Houston region was 6,876.
The City of Houston has done a lot over the past four years to try and deal with the issue of homelessness under Mayor Sylvester Turner’s administration. According to the 2019 annual Point-in-Time Homeless Count & Survey, which is a requirement of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) for The Way Home, which is a public-private coalition that provides wraparound services for homeless residents, there was a 5% decline in homelessness from 2018 and a 54% decline since 2011, bringing the total down to 3,640.
During his Inauguration Day address this past week, Turner challenged the private sector to help contribute $50 million by the end of 2021 that would go towards The Way Home, in order to reduce homelessness to less than 3,500 homeless residents by the end of the year and by less than 3,000 by the end of 2021. Brown wanted to be a part of the solution as well. He is optimistic and hopeful that the success of the Eviction Prevention Program pilot initiative will assist in preventing homelessness in Precinct 7, in the City of Houston and county-wide eventually.
Brown has also partnered with the Harris County Law Library to transform the jail cell in the Courthouse into a Community Resource Center. According to Brown, the Community Resource Center is part of the process of redefining the definition of justice. He emphasizes that the Community Resource Center will have self-help guides to help people navigate the legal system and also provide spaces for legal and social services to help people. Brown states they already have a couple of social service providers that attend the eviction and truancy docket, and his goal is to expand it and have space for them to meet with clients.
Brown believes this could be the solution for those who feel they have no options or hope.
“One of the most significant barriers I see when people appear before me is their lack of understanding about the justice system,” said Brown. “Once people appear before me, I am unable to provide them with legal advice, which causes many to feel that justice isn’t being served. With this Community Resource Center, we are in the process of making justice a reality by offering people the resources they need in real-time to help them with the root causes that brought them to Court in the first place.”
Time will tell if this pilot initiative is helping alleviate the eviction epidemic. Many landlords are also hopeful this initiative will help address the issue of evictions, especially because evictions can be costly as it relates to money and time.