Dallas County

Housing Forward Works to Put a Dent in DFW Homelessness, but Resources Are Strained

The average shelter stay for a family is about 70 days and can cost over $12,000.
The average shelter stay for a family is about 70 days and can cost over $12,000. Illustration by Sarah Schumacher
The Dallas R.E.A.L. Time Rapid Rehousing initiative, a partnership between local governments and homelessness organizations, has been able to provide homes to some 1,265 people who would otherwise be homeless. That’s almost halfway to the initiative’s goal of rehousing 2,700 homeless people and families by 2023.

Leading the effort is Housing Forward, formerly known as the Metro Dallas Homeless Alliance. The nonprofit organization said its challenges include rent increases, a tight rental market and the unwillingness of some landlords to accept housing vouchers, as well as racial inequities in housing and homelessness.

Some of these issues are also leading to an increased demand for housing assistance, the group says.

“Housing Forward, along with our partners in the All Neighbors Coalition, are feeling increased pressure,” Joli Angel Robinson, president and CEO of Housing Forward, said in a press release. Service providers are seeing more visitors and taking more calls for services than usual, and it’s beginning to strain their resources. "When rents increase and the rental housing market tightens, more and more individuals and families are feeling the immense impact of already precarious housing situations,” Robinson said.

That’s why Housing Forward is also working on keeping people out of homelessness through what it calls diversion. Family Gateway, one of Housing Forward’s partner organizations, has shown that the cost of. keeping people out of homelessness through some sort of housing assistance is one tenth of the average cost of a family’s shelter stay. On average, Family Gateway spends about $1,275 per family to keep them off the streets. Half of those families didn’t need financial assistance at all. Compare that to the $12,320 it usually costs to put up a family in a shelter and provide services for a little over two months, and you’ll see why many say diversion is a bargain.

"It really is sort of this innovative approach where we're kind of bringing housing assistance to the front door of the system, so people don't have to enter shelter in order to get that level of care," Sarah Kahn, Housing Forward's chief program officer, told the Observer. "So sometimes that looks like … people identifying friends or family that they can move into. Sometimes, it's the diversion specialists helping to mediate conflict with a family member where they were living previously or with a landlord, for example."

The organizations have been able to raise private funds to offer incentives to landlords and property owners willing to work with them. These include payments for reserving units, guarantees that those units will be occupied and ensuring these renters have active case management and wrap-around support.

"One of the benefits of working with our program is knowing that not only are we supporting people through helping them get back on their feet and provide rental assistance, but we're also supporting people to really stay in housing over the long term," Kahn said. "And to get back and to get connected with employment to connect in with community-based services that support them to increase their income and to stay housed over the long term."

But all of this may not be enough, according to Robinson. The organization needs more landlords and property management firms to work with it so there are more places to put people.

“We need more housing units,” Robinson said. “We are so appreciative of our partners in the landlord and property management community, but we need more to join them.”
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Jacob Vaughn, a former Brookhaven College journalism student, has written for the Observer since 2018, first as clubs editor. More recently, he's been in the news section as a staff writer covering City Hall, the Dallas Police Department and whatever else editors throw his way.
Contact: Jacob Vaughn

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