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Why Homeless Counts Don't Always Count Every Child

New research estimates 15,000 kids in Tarrant County are homeless, including those living with families in motels or staying on someone's couch.
New research estimates 15,000 kids in Tarrant County are homeless, including those living with families in motels or staying on someone's couch.

A new report in Tarrant County shows traditional homeless counts track people in shelters or sleeping on the street, but they don't always account for families living in motels or camping on someone's couch.

The Center For Transforming Livesis behind the new research, which estimates 15,000 kids are homeless in Tarrant County. About half of them are under the age of 6.

KERA News reporter Christopher Connelly has been reporting on this issue for weeks now. He explains why so many kids get lost in the shuffle:

Where are the uncounted families?

Lots of families stay in motels. Some double or triple up in apartments. Others will sleep in their cars — basically anywhere they can go to keep a roof over their kids' heads.

Some parents do go to homeless shelters, but the vast majority never do. Many don't know that there's shelter space designed for families. Often though, there isn't enough of it.

How do these families end up without a stable place to live?

The number one driver is poverty.

A lot of these homeless families are just trying to make ends meet. Parents are usually working, but at jobs that have low wages or unstable hours. And North Texas is becoming a more expensive place to live.

Now, keep this statistic in mind, though: 22% of kids in Tarrant County are growing up in poverty. They're already on the edge. Add to that potential stressors like an emergency room visit or a job loss, and that might mean not being able to make rent, which could lead to eviction.

» RELATEDHomelessness Continues To Rise In Dallas And Collin Counties

Solutions proposed by service providers

The report includes a bunch of recommended changes to make the homeless services system more family-friendly, to help stop families with kids from falling through the cracks.

To really get to the point where we are preventing kids from facing this kind of instability, more of the following are needed:

  • Structural changes
  • Affordable housing
  • Public transit
  • Subsidized child care

It's about offering a whole bunch of services wrapped around a family facing homelessness, focusing on families that are already homeless.

FULL REPORT: Center for Transforming Lives — Hidden Homeless Report 2019

These interview highlights were lightly edited for length and clarity.

Courtney Collins has been working as a broadcast journalist since graduating from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University in 2004. Before coming to KERA in 2011, Courtney worked as a reporter for NPR member station WAMU in Washington D.C. While there she covered daily news and reported for the station’s weekly news magazine, Metro Connection.