In late January, Metro Dallas Homeless Alliance and a team of volunteers hit the city's streets and shelters to count the homeless . The count is something hundreds of cities do each January as part of the requirements to receive federal funding, but it also helps MDHA understand where the agency is in its goal of eliminating chronic homelessness in Dallas County by 2015.
Tuesday morning, MDHA finally released the results of that count, and the news is mixed. Homelessness is down overall, as is chronic homelessness -- people with disabilities who have been homeless for more than a year or who become homeless repeatedly. But the number of families with children who find themselves with no place to stay has risen sharply in the past two years.
MDHA's point-in-time study, the full text of which is below, was conducted the night of January 26. It's intended to be a good overall estimate of a population that's notoriously hard to track with any accuracy. This year's night out found that Dallas County's steady decline in chronic homelessness has continued, with a 19 percent drop between 2011 and 2012, and a 66 percent drop since 2004. The number of people sleeping outdoors or in abandoned buildings, rather than in shelters, has also dropped steadily, starting in 2005.
At the same time, there's been a huge increase in the number of people who have found their ways into permanent supportive housing. That's not surprising -- it's something MDHA has made one of their main efforts, with a goal of building 1,800 new permanent supportive units by 2015. The results are already clear: There's been a whopping 578 percent increase in the number of adults in this type of housing between 2005 and 2012.
But then, discouragingly, there are the children. This year, 496 homeless adults said they had children living with them. That's an 8 percent increase since 2011, and a 36 percent increase since 2010. MDHA estimates that nearly 3,000 Dallas Independent School District students are homeless. The study found eight chronically homeless families living in the city.
MDHA also reports that it found 190 homeless youths unaccompanied by parents, a 272 increase over last year (the ages of those kids weren't provided). But they attribute that rise to a new effort to count homeless teens, who are otherwise among the most "invisible" of the homeless.
Mike Faenza, president and chief executive officer of MDHA, thinks the rise in homeless families is the result of a number of different factors, the terrible economy being one of them. "I believe it is because of employment and lack of affordable housing for those that are at the lowest income levels," he told us. "I believe we can do much better if we pay the same kind of attention to homeless women and children that we have put forward to single adults who are homeless and chronically homeless or at risk."
The solution? The nonprofit is calling for better permanent supportive housing programs for families and veterans, as well as more short-term transitional housing for teens and young adults who don't qualify for supportive housing. Faenza wants to create a special campus for women and children that provides all the "intensive services" they might need in one place -- not just help accessing supportive housing, but help with employment and accessing social services.
"I believe it is the families that have special challenges with health, overcoming trauma and are just worn out by the extended experience of poverty that need more attention," he told us.
At a news conference at City Hall releasing the study, Mayor Mike Rawlings praised MDHA's progress. "In less than 10 years, we've knocked this number down," he said. "This is an accomplishment we should all be proud of."
Rawlings also dismissed concerns that permanent supportive housing raises crime rates in a neighborhood. "Every time we've put in permanent supportive housing, the project -- it has worked," he said. "We've got to get rid of this myth that permanent supportive housing is bad for our neighborhoods. It's just not. The facts just don't point to that. ... As mayor, I'm going to be challenging people who say that. We have to put mythology aside and let the facts speak for themselves."