Math Lesson: Investigating Houston's Strategy to End Homelessness

Students will use scatter plots and line of best fit to compare rates of homelessness in four American cities and find out what one city is doing to tackle the problem.

Math Lesson: Investigating Houston's Strategy to End Homelessness


Students will compare the rates of homelessness of four American cities using scatter plots and lines of best fit. They'll then learn what one city has done to combat the problem.



Lesson Overview

Michael Kimmelman's article 'How Houston Moved 25,000 people From the Streets into Homes of their Own' is featured. (Also available in audio format)

German Lopez wrote in the July 2022 Morning Newsletter that "America's homeless problem has all the signs of an acute emergency." He continued:

Shelters in the U.S. report a rise in people seeking help. Wait lists have doubled or tripled in recent months. Experts say that the number of homeless outside shelters may also be increasing. Some of them are living in encampments, that have appeared in parks and public places in cities like Washington, D.C., Seattle, since the pandemic started.

Have you noticed an increase in homelessness within your community? A complex and widespread issue, which includes poverty, racial inequality, substance abuse, mental health, lack of affordable housing, etc., can sometimes seem impossible to resolve. Cities across the nation are working to solve this problem, with each having their own strategy.

This lesson will examine how Houston, America's fourth largest city, deals with homelessness. You'll then use math to evaluate the effectiveness of the city's approach. Model the rate of change in the number of homeless people in Houston and other cities in the last 10 years. Then, using your findings and relevant New York Times reports, you will determine how effective the city's approach is. We also offer additional content by The Times to help you explore the issue further in your local community.


Listen to Michael Kimmelman's narration of the first 2:30 of the story 'How Houston Moved 25,000 people From the Streets into Homes of Their Own' on the podcast The Daily.

Answer the following questions either in a written response or through a discussion with your class.

What did you find most interesting in the introduction of Mr. Kimmelman? Why?

What would be a sentence that you could use to summarize the video?

What do you know, or believe you know, about the homeless crisis? What questions or concerns did you have after watching this video?

Math Inquiry Activity

How effective are Houston’s efforts at reducing homelessness? We will compare the change in homeless populations over the last 10 years between four cities who are working to combat the problem.

This will be done by modelling raw data onto a scatter plot. Then, we'll create a line that best fits the data and calculate the slope. Here's how:

You can also see our Example of a Good Way to Start.




Below are three tables that show data for Houston, Seattle and San Diego. You can use this data to create scatter plots, find the best line of fit, and calculate rate of change for each city, as shown in the example.


In a discussion in class or in your journal, answer the following questions:

What do you see when you examine the scatter plots for each city and the lines of best fitting?

Compare the slopes or rates of change in each city using one to two sentences.

What do these graphs tell us about the current state of homelessness? Which city has the most effective homelessness strategy? How can you tell if a city has a successful strategy to combat homelessness?

Answer key is here. (PDF)


What makes Houston different from other cities? Listen to or read the excerpt from the article 'How Houston Moved 25,000 people From the Streets into Homes of Their Own' (PDF). Answer the following questions.

How much has the number of homeless in Houston decreased since 2011? Why is this important?

What is 'housing First'? What is the difference between this and traditional methods to get people off of the streets?

What is chronic homelessness? Why does Houston's Mayor focus on housing chronically homeless people specifically?

Write your response to the quote below from Ana Rausch, vice president of Coalition for the Homeless in Houston. 'We aren't here to solve the poverty. We're not here to solve the affordable housing issue. Consider the American homeless system as a triaged emergency room. Houston has made enough progress in tackling the problem that we can begin to consider the pipeline leading to homelessness.

What role does systemic racism and a lack affordable housing play in the problem of homelessness throughout the United States.

Discussion and reflection

Answer the following questions either in class or in writing.

You have analyzed and modelled data to better understand the changes in the homeless population of four American cities. You have also read about Houston’s efforts to tackle this issue. How effective do you believe Houston's efforts to end homelessness are based on the information provided? What evidence do you have to support your opinion?

What did you learn from modeling data?

Reflect on the situation of homelessness in your own community after completing this lesson. Is this a pressing issue? Do you agree that your city should follow Houston's example? What other questions do YOU have about the response of your community to homelessness in general?

Continue Reading


Try one or more of these activities to learn more about homelessness, and how cities and organizations are working together to eradicate it.

Consider the number of homeless people in your area. In the lesson above, we used data from a Point-in Time count to model homelessness in different cities. Use the same math models to model the changes in homelessness over time using data from your state's PIT count. What does this model tell you? Research what your community does to combat homelessness.

Read 'A Snapshot of Homelessness Policies Around the U.S. and the World. "A Snapshot of Homelessness Policy Around the U.S. And the World" is a good place to start. If available, check the PIT count of each place. Does any of this approach seem to work? What strategies do you find most compassionate and effective? Why?

Learn why the crisis of homelessness is worsening. The Morning Newsletter, July 2022 issue contains 'Homeless in America'. What are the primary reasons, according to the article for the worsening of the homelessness rates in the United States. Do you see any of these in your locality?

Find out what it is like to be homeless. This interactive article features 30 people who answer questions about their experience of being homeless and share it with you. You can read the stories of a single person or two. Their stories will they challenge your perception of homelessness? What do you think about the homelessness crisis after reading these personal testimonies? They help to put the numbers that you have studied in this lesson into perspective.