Downtown project will benefit homeless

HOUSTON Every five years, the Downtown Management District lays out a multi-million dollar plan to improve upon the city's central business and residential area. It's revealing the new plan and this time, the focus seems to revolve around safety and the comfort of those who live, work and visit downtown Houston.

Visitor Heather Golden loves downtown Houston and how it's grown over the last decade.

"It's changed a lot in a good way," she said. "We love Discovery Green. We're here all of the time."

She sees the new buildings, the landscaping, the retail and the sense of safety.

"There were policemen on horses just a few minutes ago here and they're friendly with the kids," said Golden. "I have no problem with safety down here."

But there are enough people who apparently do not feel the same way, which is why the Downtown District has targeted security among its top priorities going forward.

"These individuals that are homeless are part of our community, so we need to treat them with dignity," said Alma Duldulao Ybarra with the Coalition For The Homeless.

Of particular interest are the homeless and aggressive panhandlers, who the district contends lessen that feeling of safety.

So the district is doing two things. One involves working closely with the Coalition for the Homeless to find rapid housing and counseling, getting at least some off the streets.

"Because our goal is to truly prevent and end homelessness, we want to provide intense case management," said Ybarra.

The plan also includes supplementing police with an unarmed patrol that has its eyes on panhandlers.

"Highly trained team that's quite frankly kind of watching what's going on in the street," said Bob Eury with the Downtown District.

There are other aspects to the plan, including adding more retail and further improving mobility.

"The rail system is great," said downtown visitor Kimberly Murphy. "We live close to it so we take it all the time downtown."

But for any of it to work over the next five years, the district believes safety and comfort have to come first.

The Coalition for the Homeless estimates 7,800 people are homeless in Harris County. And that number is going up slightly. There is no number for those who are homeless and living downtown.

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