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Denton County’s homelessness data was up 20% on a single night. Local teams aren’t giving up

Juan Betancourt

The data collected during the count helps identify needs in a community and helps counties qualify for funding.

The Denton County Homeless Coalition works collaboratively with the Denton County Homelessness Leadership Team and the local United Way to track the homelessness data year-round.

Denton County’s population hit the 1 million milestone last July. Point-in-time organizers noted that while the number of volunteers conducting surveys to identify homeless individuals has slightly increased, the percentage of Denton County residents identified as homeless has almost stayed the same for a decade.

United Way's chart tracks numbers in the point-in-time count since 2014.
Courtesy graphic
United Way of Denton County
United Way's chart tracks numbers in the point-in-time count since 2014.

“In 2014, the survey counts were 0.04% of the population in Denton County,” Olivia Mata-Williams, chief programs officer for United Way of Denton County, said Wednesday morning. “Fast-forward to 2024 — the number of survey counts are 0.05% of the total population in Denton County.”

Mata-Williams said the slight increase in homelessness can be attributed to the ongoing population growth the county is seeing, housing issues, and the impact on individuals from COVID-19 and health problems. And, Mata-Williams said, the increase in the number of volunteers this year helped the survey identify more people living without housing.

This year, 48.1% of the 518 individuals surveyed were experiencing homelessness for the first time, according to the data.

In their work, Mata-Williams said, volunteers look to find out when a person first experienced homelessness because the longer the individual is homeless, the longer it takes for them to be housed.

“Historically, we capture a person’s first time experiencing homelessness as we know this specific group has the highest opportunity for being successfully connected to levels of support that can lead them back to being housed,” Mata-Williams said.

She presented a map showing the areas where the 136 volunteers surveyed around Denton County. Volunteers mostly completed the survey identifying homelessness within the cities of Denton and Lewisville, but other areas were also part of the count.

According to the 2020 census, about 11% of Denton County residents are Black, yet the 2024 point-in-time count found that Black individuals account for 25% of people experiencing homelessness in 2024 so far.

The annual count found that 55% of individuals surveyed have one or more disability conditions. The top three categories are mental illness, chronic health conditions and physical disability.

“Where are you sleeping tonight?” is one the questions asked in the survey. The top three responses: About 53% say they sleep at outdoor encampments, about 21% sleep on the street or sidewalk, and about 15% sleep in their vehicle.

“The one that made me take pause, where they’re sleeping in their vehicles,” Mata-Williams said. “So at 15.3%, we see that this particular population is hanging on to the last of the roof over their head that they have.”

Last year’s point-in-time count found about 26 homeless individuals who identified as LGBTQ+, compared to 42 this year — a 62% increase.

Mata-Williams did note there was a decrease in adults ages 55 and older, as well as in veterans experiencing homelessness, compared to last year.

“Additionally, some target populations to keep an eye on: those identifying as LGBTQ+. They had a significant increase,” Mate-Williams said.

United Way of Denton County uses the count to update its data on homelessnesss in Denton County.

Thanks to the survey, Mata-Williams said, 983 individuals have been successfully housed in the last seven years.

Since 2016, the Denton County Homelessness Leadership Team has taken on a major initiative to create its coordinated Housing Crisis Response System in Denton County.

This initiative changed homelessness service agencies from working independently to working with nonprofit agencies as a networked system across Denton County to prevent homelessness and rapidly return people who experience homelessness to stable housing.

Multiple agencies use a shared centralized system called the Homeless Management Information System. Any actions and referrals are tracked and can be seen by all participating agencies in Denton County in order to provide better service and outcomes for unhoused individuals.

“It’s not easy to get back into housing once you’ve been experiencing homelessness,” said Dani Shaw, chair of Denton County Housing and Homelessness Leadership Team. “So people need those wraparound [services] being there to help support them to make sure they stay stable and maintain that housing over time.”

If you’re interested in volunteering with homelessness support and response teams, fill out a Denton County Homeless Coalition interest form and donate to the Denton County Homelessness Barriers Fund, which promotes housing stability through self-sufficiency for families facing housing crises.

The full homelessness data for Denton County can be found online.