Volunteers Scour Dallas to Count Homeless, Who See Themselves as ‘normal People That Just Messed Up'

Kim Henderson held her pet dog Showtime as she escorted a group of volunteers to her encampment Thursday night under an interstate overpass in Dallas."Come right around the edge right here, and you won't fall," she said, keeping them from slipping down a slope in front of her hut — a shelter fortified by wood pallets and equipped with lights and blankets to keep her warm at night.Henderson was one of thousands of homeless people tallied Thursday night in Dallas' annual census. Each year, the city participates in a federally required effort to document the homeless population nationwide.Led by the Metro Dallas Homeless Alliance, about 1,500 volunteers joined in the count Thursday. They searched behind businesses, in cars, in alleyways and under interstate overpasses in Dallas and Collin counties. Hundreds of volunteers in Tarrant County conducted a count Thursday night, as well."It's the one time of year that we actually go out and we comprehensively count all the folks on the street, and those folks that are harder to keep track of," said David Gruber, development and communications director for MDHA.Last year, more than 4,100 homeless individuals were documented across Dallas and Collin counties by more than 1,500 volunteers. That number had increased from nearly 3,800 in 2017. That's important data for guiding the way a city combats its homeless crisis, Gruber said."If you're trying to solve the problem without data, you're flying blind," he said.In Dallas, volunteers packed First United Methodist Church and Wilshire Baptist Church, where they were instructed on how to conduct the count. Groups of three to five people then spread across the region, where they interviewed and documented people who were living without shelter.Ikenna Mogbo drove down Skillman Street in northeast Dallas following a pickup driven by Ben Bailey and Hope Stedman. The trio works daily to help the homeless for Metrocare Services, a nonprofit that supports people battling mental illness.The volunteers were given a route that they knew wouldn't lead them to many homeless individuals, so they veered off course to ensure people they see each day, such as Henderson, were being reached.Henderson has been homeless for five years after losing her home following a breakup, she said. It took her a few days to build her shelter under I-35E, but she lives under the constant threat that the site will be cleared away by the city. She said it's easier to slip into homelessness than people might think."They're just normal people that just messed up somewhere along the way," she said. "They're out here because they have nowhere to go."  Continue reading...

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