The County Connection

Lina Hidalgo | Harris County Judge
October 2021
All across America, violent crime has increased — and sadly Harris County has not been immune to this national trend. It’s no secret what is driving crime both here and across the nation — the economic consequences of the pandemic and the widespread availability and use of guns on our streets. COVID-19 has left more than just a body count in its wake. A secondary consequence has been victims of crime and a criminal court backlog that continues to delay justice for too many. The very same neighborhoods that have long been ignored by the county, by private investment, and by so many other institutions are the same ones that have been victimized the most by rising crime and gun violence. Blighted buildings, dark streets, and unsafe and abandoned structures serve as incubators of crime and gun violence.
The good news is that we are not powerless against this challenge. Over the past three years we’ve made historic anti-crime and neighborhood safety investments. Each year, we’ve increased the budgets for every law enforcement agency in the county, including the District Attorney. We’ve freed up law enforcement to focus on the most violent criminals by reinforcing them with public health experts who can cover them for non-violent, routine calls. We’ve launched crime interruption programs designed to break the cycle of gun violence through community policing and outreach. We’ve allocated millions to tackle the unacceptable backlog in criminal court cases in our county, hiring more judges, expanding jury operations, and allocating more than $17 million for overtime and equipment to speed court cases along. We’ve invested millions to support our law enforcement as they focus on the most violent crimes.
And yesterday, we passed a new $50 million Clean Streets, Safe Neighborhoods program: a crime prevention and neighborhood safety program that uses data to target county neighborhoods where decay and abandonment are driving violent crime. The program will improve street lighting, sidewalks, and visibility in residential areas, address longstanding blighted and abandoned structures, restore vacant lots, and implement other improvements shown to enhance public safety. We know this approach works due to studies by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research, and others that show that investments like these not only reduce crime, but save taxpayer dollars. Yesterday, we also issued a resolution in support of the addition of two courts to our justice system to help us get through the court backlog that has slowed justice in our county to a crawl.
We owe it to the law enforcement officers and communities we serve to put skin in the game — to have tools at the ready to help them and our courts prevent and fight violent crime from all sides. There is no silver bullet, but by working smart and investing in solutions that fight the root causes of crime in our community, we can make a difference now and for years to come.
Lina Hidalgo

County News

We ❤️ the Houston Food Bank

In Harris County our civic pride is second to none. We love our community and we look out for each other, especially when disaster strikes. Flooding, power outages and freezing temperatures, a global pandemic — through it all our neighbors are always willing to lend a helping hand. So when our community members are suffering the financial consequences of lost jobs, lost wages, and debilitating sickness due to COVID-19, Harris County steps up. We know how much harder it is to get back on your feet if you don’t know where your next meal is coming from.
Thankfully, our Houston Food Bank is one of the best in the nation. Throughout this pandemic, it has been a critical resource for Harris County families. Last week at Commissioners Court, Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo and Commissioner’s Court approved a third round of funding for the Houston Food Bank which will provide an additional 11.7 million meals to Harris County families through April 2022. This latest funding brings Harris County’s total financial commitment since the start of the pandemic to over $15.8 million dollars, providing for 47.5 million meals distributed to families by over 200 Houston Food Bank partner organizations. Throughout the pandemic, Harris County has gone the extra mile to support the Food Bank’s important work — since the summer of 2020, the County has provided support for food bank staffing, operations, and the Senior Box and Kids Café programs. In Harris County, we take pride in taking care of each other.

Harris County to Contribute $42.9 Million in Additional Funds for Houston/Harris County Rental Assistance Program

Harris County families are still struggling to cover basic costs due to financial hardship stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic, and one of the most basic ways to help them get back on their feet is by helping them stay in their homes. Last month, Harris County Commissioner’s Court approved an additional $42.9 million for the Emergency Rental Assistance Program, which supports tenants and landlords. The City of Houston will also be contributing additional funds, bringing the total to $86 million in new aid.
This summer, Deputy Treasury Secretary Wally Adeyemo visited Houston to see the program first-hand, calling it “one of the nation’s strongest local Emergency Rental Assistance programs” and noting it is run by a “regional partnership through two high-capacity, culturally competent non-profit agencies.” Those two agencies, BakerRipley and Catholic Charities, have decades of experience with disaster response and are stalwart fixtures in our vulnerable communities. Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo and other leaders from the local program have also testified before Congress and spoken at White House round-tables about how the four-way collaboration (City, County, and both nonprofits) has cut red tape and sped up payments to landlords, keeping families from being evicted.
The fund now offers aid to cover up to 18 months of COVID-related overdue and future rent for tenants. People who received help early on can reapply to request aid for months that were not covered on their first application. Tenants are encouraged to visit, where they can find the application, eligibility requirements, FAQs, a landlord directory, and a status checker. A phone line is available at 832-402-7568 Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., and Saturday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Harris County Commissioner’s Court Denounces Texas Abortion Law

Women’s rights to receive reproductive healthcare are in danger. Senate Bill 8 was signed into law in September and essentially outlaws abortion altogether by banning the procedure six weeks after conception — before many women even know they are pregnant. It makes no exception for pregnancies that result from rape, sexual abuse, or incest, potentially forcing desperate, scared, and victimized women to seek the type of back-alley procedures that led to so many deaths before the supreme court made abortion a right. On top of these restrictions, the law pays a $10,000 bounty to any citizen who chases down someone who has facilitated an abortion, effectively incentivizing vigilantes to spy and stalk women seeking the procedure. Last month, Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo and Commissioners Court passed a resolution denouncing this law that casts a dark shadow over our community, pits neighbors against neighbors, sows disunity, and represents a danger to public safety.

Harris County Welcomes Afghan Refugees

The terrible and heartbreaking fall of the Afghan government and takeover by the Taliban has left many Afghan citizens that previously supported and worked for the United States in terrible danger. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has estimated that 400,000 Afghans have fled their homes this year in an effort to escape potential future persecution. In September, Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo and Commissioner’s Court passed a resolution supporting Afghan refugees and expressing Harris County’s willingness to welcome them. Harris County is proud to resettle more refugees than any other metropolitan area in the United States, which makes our community more diverse and our economy stronger. Please join us in welcoming our Afghan allies to their new home.

Hispanic Heritage Month

Harris County’s diversity is vital to our region’s success — economically, culturally, and as one of the most diverse regions in the nation. Watch Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo’s video honoring National Hispanic Heritage Month, which ends on October 15th.

Upcoming Events

O’Donnell Consent Decree Public Meeting

On October 27th, 2021, the Justice Administration Department (JAD) will host the next virtual O’Donnell Consent Decree Public Meeting. The meeting will include an overview and update on the County’s progress reforming bail practices for misdemeanor arrestees. Input and involvement of the residents of Harris County are essential to this process. O’Donnell Public Meetings occur every six months. To register, please use the link here.

Upcoming Commissioners Court Meetings

As part of the County Judge’s Office initiative to make local government more transparent and accessible, we invite you to get involved by viewing Commissioners Court meetings. You can check here to see the meeting schedule, and watch the official close captioned livestream here or on the Judge’s homepage here.

Upcoming Flood Control Bond Project Meetings

Harris County never stops preparing for the next big storm. And while the 2018 Harris County Flood Control District Bond Program is in full swing, we continue to seek input from community members as we implement projects in watersheds across the County. If you have a comment about a particular project, we invite you to attend the corresponding virtual meeting and be part of the planning process. Learn more about upcoming 2018 Bond Program Community Engagement Meetings here.

Hazardous Waste Collection Appointments

Do you have unwanted household hazardous items? Properly dispose of them by making an appointment with the Household Hazardous Waste Collections facility at 6900 Hahl Road in Houston. Appointments are available each Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday, and during the second and fourth Saturday of each month. Learn what items are accepted and make an appointment here.

About Judge Hidalgo

Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo is the head of Harris County’s governing body and Director of the Harris County’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Management. Judge Hidalgo, alongside four County Precinct Commissioners, oversees a budget of approximately $5 billion that funds services and institutions for the third-largest county in the nation, home to nearly 5 million people.
For more information about Harris County and the Office of the County Judge, click here.