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On Our Minds is the name of KERA's mental health news initiative. The station began focusing on the issue in 2013, after the mass shooting in Newtown, Connecticut. Coverage is funded in part by the Donna Wilhelm Family Fund and Cigna.

Annual Homeless Count, Under New Leadership, Aims To Better Target Resources

Volunteers participate in the homeless count in 2016.
Associated Press
Volunteers participate in the homeless count in 2016.

Hundreds of volunteers will take to the streets of North Texas tomorrow to count the local homeless population. The annual count provides critical data on the state of homelessness, and this year, in Dallas and Collin counties, it’s being done under new leadership.

“We have to look at our efficiencies, and we have to look at where we’re spending our dollars, where we’re targeting our resources,” says Carl Falconer, president and CEO of the Metro Dallas Homeless Alliance.

Falconer took over as the head of the homeless alliance last year. Former president and CEO Cindy Crain resigned last April, after a harsh city auditcriticized the group’s response to the homeless crisis. Crain is a member of KERA's Community Advisory Board.

The Metro Dallas Homeless Alliance conducts counts in Dallas and Collin counties. These counts are required by the federal government, and the data helps determine how much funding cities receive. It also helps connect homeless individuals with critical housing, medical and mental health care

Last year, the count turned up more than 4,100 people in Dallas and Collin counties, up 9 percent from the year before. There were declines in the number of homeless veterans and in the number of people who have been homeless for at least a year.

“One of the things that we have to be careful of is not to prioritize one population so much that you forget about other populations of individuals,” Falconer says, “and I think that’s kind of what has happened in our system a little bit.”

What's happening in North Texas is in line with national trends. Last year, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development reported a nationwide increasein homelessness for the second year in a row. David Gruber with the Metro Dallas Homeless Alliance says part of the problem is a shortage of affordable housing.

“This demands that nationally, statewide, in every city, that we take the issue of affordable housing very, very seriously,” Gruber says.

Gruber is optimistic about steps Dallas has taken. Last year, the city approved its first-ever comprehensive housing plan, which proposes incentives for developers to build more affordable homes. Gruber says service providers are also working more collaboratively, and sharing more data. He says that has helped curb homelessness for certain groups like veterans.

“If you go back a few years, we didn’t really have a system, per say,” he says, “and so when you have that system in place, and the system attacks those specific populations, we start to see a drop in homelessness.”

Dallas and Collin counties are hoping for as many as 1,500 volunteers for tomorrow's count, which takes place between 7 p.m. and midnight. Tarrant and Denton counties will also hold counts tomorrow.

This year, David Krause will volunteer for the count for a second time. Krause is president and CEO of the Parkland Foundation. The group secures funding for the Parkland Health and Hospital System, which provides care to indigent patients. Krause first volunteered for the count in 2016.

“When we arrived I was nervous, wasn’t quite sure what we were getting into,” Krause says, but his nerves quickly faded. 

“It really was a flawless procedure,” he says. “We went to… two or three different neighborhoods and walked around, talked to people. It gives you a very good sense of being bonded to your community.”

Syeda Hasan is the Elections Editor and Reporter at KERA. Before moving into that role, she covered mental health at the station. A Houston native, her journalism career has taken her to public radio newsrooms around Texas.