Homelessness is an important topic in North Texas. After all, housing stability is the base that people need to be successful in education, income and health—three areas we recognize as the building blocks of opportunity.
Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, our community included thousands of people living on the streets or in shelters. After the economic crisis of the last year, it’s particularly important to understand homelessness in our community and how to make progress.
The seventh-annual “State of Homelessness Address Reimagined” event, held virtually May 11, included the results of the 2021 COVID-19 Homeless Count, an analysis of the data, actions taken by the homeless rehousing system, and next steps to make homelessness rare, brief and nonrecurring.
The event featured Ashley Brundage, director of Housing Stability and senior vice president of Community Impact at United Way of Metropolitan Dallas, and board chair of the Dallas and Collin Counties Homeless Collaborative; and Peter Brodsky, board chair of the Metro Dallas Homeless Alliance (MDHA).
Here are some of the key insights from this year’s State of Homelessness event:
COVID-19 has been a huge challenge.
Not surprisingly, COVID-19 created unprecedented challenges for the local homeless services community.
“COVID-19 has been devastating and disruptive for those experiencing homelessness,” said John Siburt, president and CEO of CitySquare. “We’ve had fewer shelter beds, fewer services available. It’s been very isolating and kind of a period of neglect for those who are already homeless. And on top of that, we’ve had this economic disruption that is leading people to face homelessness for the first time in their lives.”
“We did see about the same number of families coming to us as we had in prior years, but they were more urgent, more critical and needed a deeper level of services,” said Ellen Magnis, president and CEO of Family Gateway.
The 2021 Homeless Count was unlike any other.
The annual Point in Time Homeless Count, led by MDHA, provides a snapshot of who and how many people are experiencing homelessness each year. Typically, MDHA relies on volunteers to conduct the count in one day. However, because of the pandemic, MDHA couldn’t use volunteers, and staff members conducted the count over a period of two weeks.
Another challenge was timing: The count started on Feb. 18, in the middle of Winter Storm Uri, which presented a variety of logistical challenges and led to a significant increase in the number of North Texans in emergency shelters.
These obstacles made the 2021 Homeless Count extremely difficult. As Brodsky explains, “It is very difficult to draw conclusions from these numbers, because they are not really an apples-to-apples comparison to previous years.”
With these caveats in mind, here are key data points from this year’s Homeless Count:
- 4,570 people were experiencing homelessness in Dallas and Collin Counties.
- Of those individuals who were unsheltered, about 37 percent had been homeless for more than three years, while about 40 percent had been homeless for one to three years.
- About nine out of 10 experiencing homelessness were over the age of 24, while one out of 12 were under the age of 18.
- 370 of the individuals experiencing homelessness were veterans.
- 550 people in shelters had children with them, and more than 52 percent of those families were Black.
- It takes people experiencing homelessness about 100 days to get into housing, a number that has steadily declined since 2015, when our community started prioritizing data-driven, housing-first solutions.
- About 21 percent of clients who are placed in housing later return to homelessness.
To view the full 2021 Homeless Count report, click here.
Homelessness is not an equitable problem.
Brodsky pointed out the importance of recognizing the systemic racism inherent in homelessness.
“Black men are disproportionately affected,” he said. “And it’s great to name it and recognize it, but it’s far from enough. The damage is already done by the time someone has become homeless. If we really want to solve this problem, we have got to address the societal, systemic racism that leads to the results we see in the homeless population: Mass incarceration, employment discrimination, disproportionate poverty and so many other factors cause African-American people to become homeless at much higher rates. We absolutely cannot accept that.”
With these disparities in mind, MDHA’s Racial Equity Steering Committee is taking a variety of steps to ensure equity in homeless rehousing solutions and to increase understanding of the systems that created this racial disparity in our homeless population.
Solving homelessness requires a collective approach.
Brundage acknowledged that ending homelessness is incredibly complex.
“Homelessness does not exist because of one, single factor—rather, it’s a series of forces that manifest as homelessness,” she said. “And the systems in place to help prevent and end homelessness are just as complex, but can be broken down into four parts: prevention programs that stabilize individuals to make sure they don’t fall into poverty; housing creation to actively expand affordable housing; rehousing services, where we engage with people experiencing homelessness, bring them into shelters and then rehouse them; and street services to manage and care for individuals living on the streets.”
As some of the local homeless service providers shared, because of the complexity of the challenge, ending homelessness will require commitment from nonprofits, government agencies and individuals alike:
“Poverty—and especially homelessness—are the storm that nobody sees. And the pandemic awakened everybody to our shared humanity…and cultivated a new sense of empathy and urgency around poverty and homelessness,” Siburt said.
“I would say that during the pandemic the homeless service provider community came together in ways that we hadn’t in the past,” Magnis said.
T.C. Broadnax, city manager for the City of Dallas, agreed: “The silos that we used to operate in were no longer going to allow us to have a meaningful impact when it came to addressing homelessness. We tore down all the walls and barriers that we had with our partners and our service providers, which allowed us to figure out how the city could approach it in partnership, rather than just as a conduit for resources.”
You Can Be Part of the Change
United Way Dallas, in partnership with local nonprofits and governments, works to help prevent and end homelessness. As the COVID-19 crisis hit North Texas, United Way formed the Dallas Rental Assistance Collaborative (DRAC), which enabled us to distribute millions of dollars of funding through our local partners into the community and stabilize families as quickly and efficiently as possible. This year, part of DRAC’s focus is on eviction prevention for our neighbors who are struggling to pay rent.
We invite you to join the movement to lift up North Texans who have been impacted by the pandemic. To support our work in housing and homelessness, we offer three ways to get involved:
- Give: Donate to United Way Dallas to put opportunity into the hands of your neighbors who are experiencing homelessness.
- Advocate: Call your representatives and tell them you support affordable housing throughout our community. And be sure to sign up for our Advocacy Alerts to receive information on our top policy priorities, such as affordable and equitable housing.
- Volunteer: Look for opportunities to volunteer to help United Way and our partners that provide homeless services.
This article was published on: May 12, 2021