The calm before the storm.
Photo: AP

Thanks to Hurricane Harvey, the homeless population in Houston and surrounding areas increased this year, according to a report out Wednesday from the Coalition for the Homeless of Houston/Harris County.

The survey, which collected this data over three days in January, encompasses the cities of Houston and Pasadena, as well as the counties of Harris, Fort Bend, and Montgomery. The team looked at the number of people in shelters, along the bayous, and inside abandoned buildings. They found 4,143 people were homeless this year, a 13 percent jump from the year before. Of these more than 4,000 individuals, almost 18 percent blamed the Category 4 hurricane for their homelessness.

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Now, these people are at risk as hurricane season approaches again. Shelters open up and invite wanderers to join them, but strict rules around alcohol and smoking can keep some from taking the offer.

Homelessness can be found everywhere hurricanes happen. When I visited Arecibo, Puerto Rico, a town still reeling with its own mess after Hurricane Maria, homeless people were everywhere I looked—on street corners, outside bars, along the beach. They’re at risk, too.

When natural disasters hit, the most vulnerable—people of color, low-income families, children, the elderly, the disabled—always suffer most. But for the homeless, hurricane season is downright terrifying. Imagine waking up in your tent beneath a bridge one morning and knowing that the place you’ve made home will be underwater in a few hours.

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Hurricane Season 2018 is around the corner. How will cities and states ensure that the streets don’t swallow people whole?