The number of people sleeping on the streets across parts of North Texas continues to grow, according to the results of the annual homeless "point-in-time" count, which took place in January.
The Metro Dallas Homeless Alliance presented the count’s findings Wednesday at its State of the Homeless Address.
It found that overall homelessness – which includes everyone on the street, in emergency shelters, safe havens and transitional housing – has increased over the past year by 9 percent. That means there are 4,140 people on any given night in Dallas and Collin counties who don't have a stable place to live.
Of that population, the number of people who have no housing at all and sleep outside spiked for another year – this time by 23 percent from 1,087 in 2017 to 1,341 people. The growth is part of an ongoing trend in Dallas that continues to see unsheltered homelessness increase annually.
Cindy Crain is the CEO of the Metro Dallas Homeless Alliance, which spearheaded the count and puts on the State of the Homeless Address every year. Crain is also a member of KERA's Community Advisory Board. She said the results surprised her.
“Because we don't have very large encampments anymore, I was really hoping for a reduction,” Crain said. “But understanding what's going on all across urban America, Dallas' results matched the increases that we're seeing across [the country] for the unsheltered homeless.”
Also in keeping with national trends is the demographic breakdown of homelessness in Dallas. The homeless alliance, in partnership with the Massachusetts-based Center for Social Innovation, found that African Americans are disproportionately homeless. They make up 66 percent of the Dallas homeless population, 40 percent of those in poverty, yet are only about a quarter of the city’s total population.
Crain said that means the story about poverty being the sole driver of homelessness is wrong.
“There are other systemic things going on: access to employment that improves access to jobs that give you a retirement so as you age you don't end up homeless; mass incarceration and when you get out, the complete inability to find a sustainable job or even find housing,” she said. “And combined with those stresses, everyone in their social networks is also impoverished, so literally the only support is going to come from a private nonprofit. There literally is nowhere else to go to take care of basic needs.”
The “point-in-time” report also found the homeless population is getting older and that homeless families with children are staying homeless for longer.
On the other hand, the number of chronically homeless individuals – those who’ve been homeless for at least a year, or more than four times in the last three years and who have documented disabilities – dropped. The number of homeless veterans did as well.
But without a sufficient supply of both permanent supportive housing and affordable housing in Dallas, homeless advocates don’t see much potential for improvement in the city’s homeless problem.
“Safe, affordable and accessible housing is in very much shortfall,” Crain said. “It's also important to know that this is not just a Dallas experience. We're finding it all over the United States — in Fort Worth, Austin, Detroit and San Antonio. Urban America has an extraordinary challenge ahead of it. The housing is just not affordable.”
Until development priorities in Dallas shift, Crain said her organization will continue to encourage carving out more space for permanent supportive housing, which provides necessary services to the homeless. Experts say it is the only effective way to end homelessness.
The full State of the Homeless Address