The Dallas Examiner
The numbers are just the preface to a broader story on race, age, gender and money, based on the perspective the Metro Dallas Homeless Alliance offered during its State of the Homeless Address 2017, when the organization dedicated to mitigating homelessness released the data culled from the Jan. 26 report, 2017 Point-In-Time Homeless Count.
Cindy Crain, MDHA president and CEO, discussed the count during a presentation to an audience of about 300 at the Goodwill Industries of Dallas on North Westmoreland Road March 9.
“We kind of look at all the data and information that we just gathered to try to understand the nature and the extent of homelessness, to use this data and information to inform our decisions on what we need to do next – what’s working, what’s not; how to become more effective,” she said of the count, which was driven by over 1,000 volunteers across Dallas and Collin Counties.
The general facts presented were straightforward: Federally-defined homelessness overall went down in the latest count, totaling 3,789 individuals this year versus the 3,810 counted last year when the categories of unsheltered, emergency sheltered, Safe Haven housing and transitional housing were combined.
However, the number of unsheltered homeless increased 47 percent. Crain remarked that this increase was not unexpected since the count had much greater coverage this year, which included for the first time the cities of DeSoto, Mesquite and Grand Prairie. However, along with the overall tale the data told, some notably specific statistics stood out.
Dallas still has the highest concentration of indigent individuals in the area as Collin County showed a sharp increase in its homeless population. Transitional housing had decreased, but not due to empty beds; rather, because such programs were cancelled and replaced with Rapid Re-Housing, “which is a short-term subsidy of housing, considered best practice in family homelessness, and the people in those programs are not defined as homeless,” the CEO explained.
“So if we really and truly look at ourselves and say we’re going to do apples-to-apples, I would suggest that we had a half-percent decrease in homelessness overall, but within the core function of homelessness that we believe, and we see every day in our emergency shelters and on the streets, we would have had about an 8.6 percent increase in homelessness.”
On the breakdown of the numbers by category in regard to race, the combined homeless count for both counties revealed African Americans make up 58 percent of the homeless population. “Obviously the supermajority of the people experiencing homelessness are people of color, and there is a statistic that is being proven quite well throughout the United States: Whatever your portion of your population is Black, African American, just times it by three and that’ll give you the portion of your homeless who are Black and African American,” Crain affirmed.
She also indicated that race was such a profound indicator of homeless populations that it was a factor needing specific scrutiny.
“Eighty-one percent of our emergency shelter families were African American,” she said in reference to her review of the most recent Annual Homeless Assessment Report. “Eighty-two [percent] in our transitional housing. And then you see the individuals. That’s more than three times, so we have to look at that and help them help our families.”
The Supporting Partnerships for Anti-Racist Communities initiative is a research and action plan in 10 cities intended to close the racial gap in homeless populations by creating changes in structural racism within societal systems. With SPARC Dallas in mind, Crain suggested that one part of the solution to the issue might lie in changing the way relief agencies themselves are organized.
“Metro Dallas Homeless Alliance is now a minority-majority office, but the top three people in my 10 command – I’m White. My vice president’s White. My CPA’s White. But our director – African American, and a director who is Latina. We have to look at our ourselves and say, ‘Is this part of the system response? Is there a role leadership has?’” she suggested.
“Like, the clients are predominately African American, and the frontline case managers are absolutely primarily African American, and all the leaders are White, [so] we have to look at our structure. Opportunity for training, opportunity for management, opportunity to get that master’s degree, et cetera … These are things that define our path because the correlation is absolute.”
The gender makeup for the unsheltered homeless is 76 percent male, 23 percent female, according to the count, although the female percentage is more vulnerable to the unsafe environment of living on the street, Crain said.
The median age for a homeless person is 53, and the average time that people live on the street is more than three years without permanent shelter.
Veteran homelessness went up in the past year, bringing their numbers to 352, although Crain added the caveat that some veterans who used local homeless service providers arrived from outside of Dallas or Collin County as the Veterans Administration tries to place its clients in any assigned beds that it can.
Much of the data pointed to a substantially greater need in affordable housing, but the CEO reiterated such housing was dependent on members of the city council, and their votes at City Hall would only remain in line with what the constituents from their districts wanted and what neighborhoods would accept.
On that topic, Crain brought up what she called the epicenter of homelessness – the place or places where homelessness was concentrated. “It moved,” she stated as she provided a map that depicted various pockets of homeless communities. “It moved as did Tent City move,” underscoring that when the homeless encampment under I-45 was dismantled, most of its residents scattered elsewhere rather than got housed.
“This mean something to urban planners,” Crain said of that geographic data. “This means something to people who are going, ‘Do we build a shelter or do we build housing? Where do we put housing?’ … This means something to neighborhoods.”
Aside from low-income housing, Crain spoke of innovations on the horizon that may assist in reducing the number of homeless in the area.
A Homeless Management Information System will go live May 1 so that 40 different service providers can store information for case management on those whom they assist. HMIS will help clients by way of a tracking card; it will assist them in picking up their mail and record where they may be staying, such as The Bridge, The Stewpot and so on. The data will also help the MDHA figure out more effective paths out of homelessness, endeavoring to clarify, “What are the social determinants to success?” as Crain phrased the goal.
One potential proposal is a free bus service that runs to shelters, the VA, employment centers, groceries stores and so on, similar to the Project Access program utilized in Houston. It would get the homeless where they needed to go while circumventing the problem of lost or stolen bus passes. Crain said that on more than one occasion she personally witnessed instances in Tent City when homeless men verbally and physically assaulted homeless women in order to take away their bus passes.
There is also a potential rollout of a mobile app called Outlast Youth, based on a model used in Los Angeles for homeless youth.
The complete State of the Homeless Address 2017 can be found online at http://www.mdhadallas.org.