Why The Dallas Homeless Count Is Critical To Finding Solutions For This Vulnerable Group | KERA News

Why The Dallas Homeless Count Is Critical To Finding Solutions For This Vulnerable Group

Jan 29, 2020

Hundreds of people walked the streets of Dallas last Thursday to count how many people are homeless in the city. The results will be directly connected to federal funding to help find solutions for the homeless community.

Juan Pablo Garnham, a reporter with The Texas Tribune, spent time with volunteers during the count. He spoke with KERA's Justin Martin about what volunteers found.

INTERVIEW HIGHLIGHTS:

What Does The Count Cover?

This is part of the point in time count, something that happens in all major cities throughout the country. What people are trying to understand is not only how many people are experiencing homelessness, but also who they are, where they are.

There are all sorts of questions, including location. The volunteers go around with this app that actually geo-locates every person, including people that don't answer because a lot of people don't want to answer or can't answer for some reason, but they still can mark where was this person. There's like a two, three, four, five minute battery of questions that they ask.

What Did He See During The Latest Count In Dallas?

I think one of the things that was more impressive to me is how tricky it can be to find people, and I think this happens to a lot of us that live in Dallas.

You think that there's no one there, but there is a neighbor, there is someone there somewhere in the dark, far away, actively trying to avoid being spotted, avoid getting kicked out from there — trying to find that one place that they can be safe to sleep, to not be robbed by someone.

I would strongly recommend anyone that can next year in January, they should participate in the count. They need volunteers ... you learn so much.

It was also very striking to notice the differences between what I've seen in Austin and in Dallas. In Austin, maybe because of the design of the downtown, it's so easy to see everything. You have these straight lines, the locations where people experiencing homelessness get services are pretty close to downtown. It's almost impossible not to see homelessness in Austin.

Here in Dallas — maybe because of the sprawl, maybe because of past attempts to remove encampments — it's so much more difficult, but they are all there. The numbers show that we have a problem, that it's worse. Not only worse than Austin has, but worse than Houston.

You know, we've had an increase of 44% between 2015 and 2019, according to the counts that we've had in those years. So in Dallas, it's really easy to not see homelessness, but they are there and we should open our eyes to see that.

How Is Data From The Count Used And How Will It Affect Dallas?

The data is used by the local homelessness organizations, such as the Metro Dallas homeless Alliance and all the other local charities, to try to focus their attention on problems, places, particular characteristics of the issue. But at the same time, the numbers will give a sense of how much money we need.

The Department of Housing and Urban Development, which is one of the big funders of any kind of homelessness and housing services, uses this data to allocate funds. But what is really important is that this is not the only consideration that they have, they also look for performance. So the way that a city has dealt in the past with homelessness is really, really important. 

That's why Houston has been able to get more and more money each year in spite of their numbers going down. That's another factor that they consider in the process of allocating funds for homelessness.

Answers have been edited for clarity.