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Denton County sees big increase in homelessness that includes many people with disabilities

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Homelessness has increased by 74 percent in Denton County, according to a new report.

Denton County has  seen a 74% increase in people experiencing homelessness, according to a new report by the United Way of Denton County.

“We're seeing nearly double the amount of people that we saw two years ago, which is pretty groundbreaking,” said Leia Atkinson, who manages homeless data for the nonprofit. “We also see a lot of people who have never been homeless before. And a lot more of the individuals who are experiencing homelessness are reporting disabilities.”

Atkinson pointed to several possible explanations.

“It’s a combination of COVID-19 job loss,” she said. “That then was followed by inflation. And in general, Denton County is expanding.” Denton County’s population was 662,614 in 2010, according to the U.S Census Bureau. That number had increased to 941,647 by July 2021.

Rents also are higher. And landlords may be more reluctant to accept housing vouchers.

The United Way's “Point in Time" count tallied the unsheltered and sheltered homeless population on a single night in late January. That number was compared to a similar survey two years ago.

Atkinson acknowledges that it is hard to get an exact count. That’s in part because some of the people experiencing homelessness in Denton County live in rural towns. And the county's few overnight shelters are usually near larger cities.

“We know that there are people experiencing homelessness in those areas,” Atkinson said. “But if there’s no shelter, it’s really hard to know and it’s hard to reach those people.”

Atkinson says that some homeless people gravitate towards the city, where there are more resources. But others have gotten comfortable sleeping in their car or in the woods.

Wherever they are, it’s not always apparent who is experiencing homelessness.

Atkinson says she was encouraged by the public response to the report.

“A lot of times we see people who care about our homeless population and want to be doing advocacy, but just don't really know where to put that energy,“ Atkinson said. “ And honestly, what I would love to see is our local soup kitchen, our daily bread full of volunteers."

The United Way of Denton raises money to help support homeless Denton County residents overcome homeless issues and to prevent other residents from becoming homeless.

Got a tip? Email Mya Nicholson at  mnicholson@kera.org.

Mya Nicholson reports for KERA's government accountability team. She studies broadcast journalism at the University of North Texas.

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Mya Nicholson reports for KERA News as an intern assigned to KERA's government accountability team. She studies broadcast journalism at the University of North Texas.