On any given night in Texas, as many as 26,000 people are living in the streets, with Dallas hosting the most homeless individuals in the state.
We know that because each year, hundreds of volunteers hit the streets to count the homeless for the annual Point in Time (PIT) count. The event is scheduled for this Thursday, Jan. 23.
The count is crucial because homeless numbers are on the rise in Dallas, according to Metro Dallas Homeless Alliance.
“Ideally what we want to see is less every year and if we’re going in the wrong direction, which is where Dallas has been going in the last few years," said David Gruber, development and communications director at Metro Dallas Homeless Alliance. "You want to see what can we do to arrest that and start lowering the numbers.”
The MDHA is leading the count for Dallas and Collin counties. The Tarrant County Homeless Alliance is spearheading the count for Tarrant and Parker counties. The United Way of Denton County will head up the counting effort there.
Rain or cold, volunteers are needed Thursday night to help get an accurate snapshot of the homelessness issue.
According to the MDHA, last year's count showed more than 4,500 homeless in Dallas. In 2018, the number was approximately 4,100 and in 2017, the count for the homeless showed 3,800. Gruber added that unsheltered homeless increased from 700 to 1,400 in the past few years.
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“You don’t have to be a math genius to understand that we’re going in the wrong direction," Gruber said. "Ideally what we want to see is less every year, and if we're going in the wrong direction -- which is where Dallas has been going in the last few years -- you want to see what can we do to arrest that and start lowering the numbers."
In Fort Worth, the numbers are telling a different story.
“We have about 2,000 people experiencing homelessness on any given night in Tarrant and Parker counties. And that has stayed consistent Over the last 10 years," said Tammy McGhee, Executive Director of Tarrant County Homeless Coalition. "Considering the population growth especially in fort worth, homelessness is actually decreasing as a percentage of the population in Fort Worth."
During the counts, volunteers will survey each person to see what their needs are so that non-profits can target their goals in getting more people off the streets.
"It's not going to be solved by the government or nonprofits alone, we need everyone to come together on that. And if you look at the causes of homelessness, we need to increase peoples income and increase the amount of affordable housing available to people, we have a shortage of affordable housing," said McGhee.
Last year, Gruber said they were able to determine a rise in veteran homelessness.
“Which is very unfortunate because there are a lot of different tools specifically to house homeless veterans. So we responded to that by conducting a veterans challenge and housing as many veterans as we could."
The annual counts are also important because federal funding by HUD is influenced by the data, so if volunteers don't get an accurate number, that's money left on the table.
"The money is important, but really what we're looking for is data. Without data you're flying blind," Gruber said. "What homelessness told us that there is something wrong and then you have to figure out what is the problem and what do we need to do? We know that with homelessness, it's actually kind of simple. We need to house the homeless but even though that's not complicated, it's hard work."
Across North Texas, the count starts at the same time of 7 p.m. and runs until 12 a.m.
The Metro Dallas Homeless Alliance is hoping for more than 1,500 volunteers. If you would like to volunteer, you have until noon Wednesday to register online by clicking here. You can also walk-in to their meeting locations:
- First United Methodist Church - 1928 Ross Avenue in Dallas
- Wilshire Baptist Church - 4316 Abrams Road in Dallas
- Tarrant County Homeless Coalition will be needing more than 500 volunteers. Click here for more information. Volunteers are also welcome to walk-in at the meeting point:
- University Christian Church of Fort Worth - 2720 S University Dr in Fort Worth
- Click here for more information on the United Way of Denton County PIT count.