We had the good fortune of connecting with Thao Costis and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Thao, what do you attribute your success to?
The most important factor behind SEARCH Homeless Services’ success is our clarity about what we do best — the one-on-one engagement, motivation, and guidance of people who are homeless to change their health and stability. Human service charities typically try to respond to many needs that pose challenges for our clients. It’s hard to be very good at something when you’re trying to do so much. Houston has many amazing agencies who can complement SEARCH’s efforts AND we can achieve much better results with limited resources. By creating partnerships, we can each do what we do best, leverage our resources, and make more meaningful collective impact on our community. With this clarity and our community’s commitment to end homelessness as quickly as possible especially our most vulnerable individuals who have been homeless for a long time and have mental and/or physical health challenges, Houston has become a model for the nation. We’ve reduced homelessness by more than 50% since 2011.
Alright, so for those in our community who might not be familiar with your business, can you tell us more?
Since 1989, SEARCH has been dedicated to serving those who are homeless with compassion, dignity, and respect. Today, SEARCH’s work is carried out primarily through individualized case management as we guide and support our clients through each step of their journey from homelessness back into safe homes and stable lives. SEARCH’s Outreach Team often serves as the first point of engagement for individuals living on the streets. Our Outreach Specialists also serve as Housing Assessors, evaluating clients to determine and match housing needs. SEARCH’s Housing Navigators then facilitate the complex process of finding and moving into a home once a client is approved for housing. Recognizing that housing is only the first critical step in helping individuals and families exit homelessness, SEARCH locates our case managers at the various housing sites to provide ongoing wrap-around supportive services to help our clients build their self-sufficiency through increased income, improved mental and physical health, housing stability, and connection to community. At SEARCH’s House of Tiny Treasures preschool, we strive to break the intergenerational cycle of poverty and homelessness by providing at-risk children with a vital early childhood education and the foundation for a brighter future. SEARCH also serves as a lead organization in The Way Home, an ambitious community-wide effort to end homelessness in Houston. Through this unprecedented collaboration, Houston has reduced homelessness by 53%, housed over 19,000 individuals since 2011, and became a national model for addressing urban homelessness. SEARCH is proud to have been a major contributor to this success. Getting to where we are today has not been easy. We’ve learned many tough lessons about focusing on what we can do best and finding others to collaborate with in tackling a very difficult challenge as ending homelessness. We learned that we must have humility and that many other organizations add great value with their own approaches. We don’t have to be everything to everyone who needs help. By focusing on our greatest skills, we can achieve more. We want the world to know that SEARCH Homeless Services is a multi-faith based not-for-profit that is helping people who’ve been marginalized re-enter society by first moving into their own homes. We are helping our vulnerable men, women, and children find the motivation and skills to rebuild their lives. In so doing, we are helping our community become healthier for all.
Let’s say your best friend was visiting the area and you wanted to show them the best time ever. Where would you take them? Give us a little itinerary – say it was a week long trip, where would you eat, drink, visit, hang out, etc.
Some of these activities are Pre/post Covid. Most can be done now. Sunday: Walk/bike ride along Terry Hershey park then lunch outside at District 7 along trail Attend a play at The Alley Theater or TUTS performance at The Hobby Center. Monday: Lunch at the Underground — new Bank of America building downtown, Visit new botanical garden. Tuesday: Tour EADO street art. Dinner at Huynh then attend The Moth at Warehouse Live Wednesday: Breakfast/Brunch at The Dunlavy, then take a long walk along Allen Parkway, Window shop along West Gray then catch a movie at the River Oaks movie theater. Thursday: Golf at Gus Wortham then get margaritas and nachos at El Tiempo, Go to Museum of Fine Arts (Free Thursdays) Friday: Brunch in the Village at Hungry’s or one of the other great spots. Walk through Century Gardens at Hermann Park. Later, window shop at River Oaks District, happy hour/dinner and listen to outdoor live guitarist and singer at Toulouse Saturday: Walk and Picnic at Memorial Park by the Eastern Glades. Catch a performance by HSPVA students.
The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
I am grateful for some of Houston’s strong philanthropic leaders who’ve been instrumental in developing my leadership and SEARCH’s successful work toward a city without homelessness. They include Shelly Cyprus, our founder, our Board of Directors, and other key business leaders who believe in helping the most vulnerable. They understand the dynamics of people, organizational development, taking risks, and focused forward movement. Their personal coaching and engaging other leaders to advance SEARCH’s mission support our enduring success.
Chart data, Coalition for the Homeless