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KERA's One Crisis Away project focuses on North Texans living on the financial edge.

Count Shows Fewer Dallas Homeless, But A 'Wave' Of Homelessness May Be Coming

man in front of tent
LM Otero
Associated Press
File photo from Dallas' 2016 homeless count. The number of homeless in Dallas and Collin counties dropped 1.4% from last year, but housing trends indicate homelessness will rise in the region.

The number of people experiencing homelessness in Dallas and Collin Counties nudged downward this year to 4,471, according to an annual census of people living on the streets, in shelters and in transitional housing taken each January.

It’s a 1.4% drop from last year, and it stands in contrast to a nationwide increase in people experiencing homelessness. It is a sharp departure from previous years, both 2018 and 2019 saw 9% jumps in homelessness, year to year. 

“We can see this as hope, as power, as a way to look forward to the future,” said Carl Falconer, president of the Metro Dallas Homeless Alliance, in a livestreamed “State of Homelessness” speech.

Falconer said there was some good news in the numbers over the last year, family and veteran homelessness are both down, for example. Plus, families are spending less time in the homelessness system before transitioning into permanent housing.

The annual headcount also found a larger number of unsheltered homeless people, but he said that could be because the count this year was more robust than in previous years, rather than an actual jump in the number of people sleeping outside.

Other trends were more worrisome. Chronic homelessness is up, and a look at the wider housing market in the region points to a potential wave of homelessness. The number of low-rent housing units in the region dropped 42% between 2008 and 2018, he said. And, Dallas and Collin County school districts report several thousand families in precarious housing.

“The reality is that they’re one emergency, one car breakdown, one medical emergency away from becoming homeless or losing even their temporary situation,” he said.

As the coronavirus pandemic worsens, Falconer said homeless service organizations are working to keep everyone safe, but people without homes have no reasonable way to practice social distancing.

“If they don’t have a place to quarantine, where do you think they’re going to be? In the community,” he said. “They don’t have any other choices.”

The pandemic shows the ways that we’re all connected when it comes to public health, Falconer said. He hopes that sense of connectedness will bolster the fight to make homelessness rare, brief and non-recurring in greater Dallas.

Christopher Connelly is a reporter covering issues related to financial instability and poverty for KERA’s One Crisis Away series. In 2015, he joined KERA to report on Fort Worth and Tarrant County. From Fort Worth, he also focused on politics and criminal justice stories.