On Thursday, hundreds of volunteers will descend onto Dallas and Collin County streets to count the number of people sleeping outside as part of the annual homeless “point-in-time” count, organized by the Metro Dallas Homeless Alliance.
Organizers are hoping new technology will capture a more accurate and immediate picture of the region’s homeless crisis.
The new technology is an app called “Counting Us,” which volunteers will download onto their phones or tablets.
“When they go out and do interviews, they will ask a consistent series of questions and just click, click, click and hit submit,” said Cindy Crain, who is the president and CEO of the Metro Dallas Homeless Alliance – as well as a member of KERA’s Community Advisory Board.
Crain said that data will immediately drop into a database that organizers will be able to monitor and manage all night – in real-time. Visually, those data reports will pop up as several red dots on a map.
“And the greatest value is that when the last volunteer is completed and done, we will be able to immediately get some preliminary data, where we identify some opportunities to do some street outreach the very next day.”
Up until last year, these counts have been done with paper and pen on clipboards, which means her team would have to wait days, weeks, even months for the results. When MDHA started using “Counting Us” on a limited basis just in Dallas last year, Crain said they were able to identify veterans and people under the age of 24 – both especially vulnerable populations – and get them connected to street outreach right away.
Crain said her team will continue to prioritize those populations as well as families with young children and people who say they’re victims of domestic violence.
While each homeless count is vital, this one comes as Crain and her organization are facing criticism from Dallas City Hall about poor data management and calls for Crain to step down as president. She says it’s important that this homeless count is as comprehensive and accurate as possible.
“If I don’t have the number of volunteers I need, then I won’t be able to really give a good picture,” she said. “But I will be able to say that we are using a consistent counting model year after year to provide that necessary longitudinal data to give the community an idea of how many people are experiencing unsheltered homelessness.”
A record 1,550 volunteers have registered this year, according to the homeless alliance. They'll span 250 different routes across Dallas and Collin Counties.
Last year, the homeless count showed that overall homelessness had dropped slightly, but unsheltered homelessness – people sleeping outside – spiked 47 percent.
Similar counts are also happening on Jan. 25 in Denton, Tarrant and Parker Counties.