Community leaders and volunteers across the Metroplex went into their respective cities on Thursday, Jan. 23, to interact with and count homeless people in order to best serve them. Irving leaders faced a particular problem in counting members of the homeless community.
“We have a lot of services all around the downtown area,” DeLiza Gierling, community development manager, said. “People come [to Irving] for services, and then they take the train back to [Dallas] to make it in time to sleep in one of the shelters.”
Although Irving has resources for the homeless, funding for certain programs is based on the homeless population that stays and sleeps in a particular city, not where they seek help.
“Being counted is kind of like the census count,” Micah Sutton, housing advocate for Irving, said. “The same type of funding, the same type of programs and things of that nature can come from [the count]. Not being counted is a hindrance.”
“These numbers are how we get our funding,” Gierling said. “It’s important we count [homeless people] accurately, so Irving benefits from this, so that we know how to provide better services to our community.
“More affordable housing is part of that. Education, mental health services, access to prescriptions would be helpful. But a lot of things revolve around affordable housing, because once some of our homeless residents do have money, they can’t get into housing, because rent is so high in Irving.”
For Grand Prairie volunteers, the count is important, so the community knows the degree to which homelessness is a problem.
“It validates what so many people know is a problem, but it validates it for government officials, for city council members who might wonder, ‘How big or small is the problem?’” Kirk England, director for Grand Prairie Homeless Outreach Organization, said. “There’s not enough being done, and a count helps us to validate the number.
“I think it’s a lot higher than what we can even count tonight. I think we ought to take that into consideration. We cannot find them all within a four hour window, but we’re going to try.”
The official homeless count is limited to those a living in their car, outside, or in a place not meant for human habitation; as opposed to those who are homeless but living with a friend or in a motel briefly.
“We have to do the unsheltered, which means they’re living in a place not meant for human habitation,” Tammy Chan, Grand Prairie Homeless Outreach Organization coordinator and case manager, said. “If they’re in a motel doubled up [with another family], it’s not going to count as a not meant for human habitation. That’s sad, because so many of the people who are in the motels tonight, in two weeks are going to be out on the street, because they’re out of money.
“According to the [Housing and Urban Development] definition, we have about 40 homeless people. Other government agencies use a different definition, and if you go with that, we’ve got about 78. Of those about 40 are unsheltered living under underpasses, living in cars, living just outside.”
For Coppell, the homeless count discovered very few homeless people.
“Using the HUD definition of homelessness, we did not find any homeless people in Coppell,” Brittni Coe, volunteer coordinator for Metrocrest Services, said. “We did find 48 students from Coppell-ISD who are qualified under the McKinney Vento Act.”
The McKinney-Vento Act provides a different definition than HUD. The act emphasizes children and youth, and it defines homelessness as “individuals who lack a fixed, regular, and adequate nighttime residence.”
“One of the biggest challenges is dispelling the myth that there are no homeless people in Coppell,” Coe said. “We have to educate people in affluent areas. We want to let everyone know and care about [the problem].”