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Due To Pandemic, Homeless Count Will Take More Time, Won't Use Volunteers

Man walking with clip board in hand with tent and Dallas skyline in the background.
LM Otero
AP News
With a clipboard in hand, volunteer Jonathan Grace walks to a tent encampment during a late night count of homeless people near downtown Dallas in 2016.

Instead of having over 1,000 volunteers take the the street on one night in January, local homeless response teams will spend two weeks in February canvassing Dallas and Collin Counties to try and get an accurate count.

The Metro Dallas Homeless Alliance is doing its annual Point In Time homeless count a bit differently this year.

David Gruber, development and communications director for the organization, said typically between 1,500 and 1,750 volunteers are trained on how to interact with and count the unsheltered homeless population. Then they take to the streets on one night in January to get everyone counted.

But the pandemic forced a change.

“Obviously you can't do that during a pandemic,” Gruber said. “You can't gather hundreds of folks into one place.”

This year, Gruber said the group won’t be asking for the help of any volunteers.

“Just the idea of sending folks out to interact with these medically fragile folks, and then going back and interacting with their families, it was a non-starter for us,” he said.

Instead, local homeless response teams will spend two weeks canvassing Dallas and Collin Counties to try and get an accurate count. Gruber said the new approach is beneficial in some ways.

“This will be way more comprehensive than just, you know, what they're usually doing. They might touch areas that they've not touched before,” he said.

While the teams may be able to cover more ground than they have before, Gruber said asking an unsheltered person where they stayed days ago could be tricky.

“You know where you slept 13 nights ago, right? In bed at home, because that's just what you do, right?” he said. “But if you were unsheltered, I don't know. Maybe not.”

Another upside to the new approach — the response teams are already trained on how to interact with homeless people and can offer help and support that regular volunteers wouldn't.

The Department of Housing and Urban Development uses the data collected during the yearly Point In Time count, as well as other data collected throughout the year, to allocate funds to local homeless organizations.

Gruber said this year is so different, it’ll be impossible to get an accurate comparison to previous years, but funding shouldn't be drastically impacted. And he said the information is still valuable regardless.

“[HUD is] going to have a huge asterisk next to any number that comes out of 2021,” Gruber said. “But they still feel there's tremendous value in doing the count for one specific reason to see how has COVID-19 affected homelessness? Where has it risen? Where has it dropped? Where has it stayed the same, more or less?”

Gruber said the Metro Dallas Homeless Alliance and its local partners will also be pushing back the start date of the count. It’s usually done in late-January, but this year the two week count will be done during the second half of February instead.

Got a tip? Email Rebekah Morr at You can follow her on Twitter @bekah_morr.

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Rebekah Morr is KERA's All Things Considered newscaster and producer. She came to KERA from NPR headquarters in Washington, D.C., where she worked as a news assistant at Weekend All Things Considered.