Andy Icken has served as chief development officer since February 2010, early on in the first administration of Mayor Annise Parker. In his position, he directs all major projects including coordinating departments, communicating with county, state and federal offices and negotiating with the private sector.
Last month, Icken joined Mandy Chapman Semple, the special assistant to the mayor for homelessness, to present the Mayor’s report on homelessness. The city with the nation’s strongest economy also has the largest homeless population. But Houston has a clear plan to help the chronically homeless find housing, necessary services and jobs.
The Mayor’s report outlined the strategy of providing comprehensive, coordinated services to the homeless, while contracting to build or refurbish additional subsidized housing throughout the city. You mentioned briefly how jobs and job training factor into the plan. As you know, people become homeless for many reasons, and some are already educated. How will the city help stabilize this population and help the homeless become employable?
Andy Icken: “It’s an accurate observation that there is no common denominator for the homeless population. People are there for a huge variety of reasons. Yes, some have mental illness and other afflictions. But they don’t all have that problem. Many of them are employable now and we are always looking for good employees.”
Ms. Semple, you presented a lot of details about how services will be coordinated and cases will be tracked so that needs are addressed properly and anyone seeking housing will be able to be relocated. However, at some point, tenants will need to be able to generate the income required for their own needs and for maintaining the properties they live in. How will that part work out?
Mandy Chapman Semple: “Of course, some tenants are disabled, and their needs are addressed with other programs. Our subsidized housing allows individuals to pay a portion of their rent based on their income. The service package includes referrals to a program called ‘supportive employment.’ These jobs allow people to adapt to their jobs at their own pace depending on their own sets of skills. As their income increases, the portion of the rent they pay increases until they reach self-sufficiency.”
Marc Pembroke is a freelance writer covering all things Houston. His work can be found on Examiner.com.