North TX County Sees Homelessness Rise 20%

Homeless person | Image by travelview/Shutterstock
Homeless person | Image by travelview/Shutterstock

DENTON—Homelessness increased by 20% in Denton County over the previous year, and officials said during a data reveal on Wednesday that stakeholders must place more emphasis on permanent housing and diversion.

“We need to look at housing and supports,” said Dani Shaw, chair of the Denton County Housing and Homelessness Leadership Team. “That is the focus. It’s not just Housing First. It’s not just housing focus. [It’s ensuring that] people are supported in that housing experience. It’s not easy to get back into housing once you’ve been in homelessness.”

The Denton County Homeless Coalition Point-in-Time Count was conducted on January 25. Of the 518 people counted, 54% were sheltered, and 45% were unsheltered. That number is up from 431 in 2023 and 448 in 2022.

“In order for us to get better, we have to understand what’s happening in our community and how we resource it effectively,” Shaw said. “We know our numbers are increasing. Denton County’s just growing, and we need to know how we’re scaling this up.”

The Point-in-Time Count includes Denton, Carrollton, Frisco, Lewisville, Roanoke, and The Colony. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development requires the data collection of “sheltered” and “unsheltered” homeless people on a single night in January for members of continuums of care (CoC). Denton County is part of the Balance of State continuum of care — the largest of the 11 CoCs in Texas, covering 215 of 254 counties.

“We need to expand our diversion and prevention efforts,” Shaw said. “Forty-eight percent of folks are experiencing first-time homelessness. It’s almost always that number. If we can stop people from being homeless in the first place … it’s a really important part of the process. Our strategic goals are working toward how we expand that.”

The Denton County Housing and Homelessness Leadership Team Strategic Plan is a collective impact project of the Denton County Homeless Coalition, the City of Denton, the United Way of Denton County, and the City of Lewisville. Its goals include:

  • Scaling up rapid rehousing initiatives
  • Expanding permanent supportive housing
  • Increasing access to “affordable housing” across Denton County
  • Enhancing support services
  • Engaging the community and stakeholders
  • Continuing improvement of coordinated systems
  • Performance and outcome measuring
  • Using data to drive decisions
  • Ensuring agencies are implementing diversion practices and Homeless Management Information System data
  • Identifying new program strategies to enhance the effectiveness of diversion
  • Improving data collection for diversion and prevention
  • Increasing available funding for diversion and prevention

“For many of us, the basic human need is something we might take for granted,” said Olivia Mata-Williams, chief programs officer for United Way of Denton County. “And for hundreds right here in our community, it’s a daily struggle. Homelessness is not about statistics. It’s about humanity, the dreams and aspirations that get buried under years and years of hardships.”

The Denton County Point-in-Time Count found that 60% of those who were homeless on January 25 were male, and 126 were between the ages of 35 and 44.

“One-hundred and thirty-five individuals reported experiencing chronic homelessness,” Mata-Williams said. “Fifty-five percent report one or more conditions — serious mental illness, chronic health conditions, and physical disability. And the racial disparity has not shifted. This has been a very similar report each year.”

African Americans make up 11% of Denton County’s 1.03 million population, but they account for 25% of unsheltered homeless, Mata-Williams said.

She added that when people are unsheltered for three years or more, they experience “compounding variables.”

“They require more intensive interventions and can be more challenging to rehouse,” she said.

Of those surveyed during the Point-in-Time Count in January, more than 53% said they planned to sleep that night in outdoor encampments. Nearly 22% said they would sleep on streets or sidewalks, and 15.3% planned to sleep in their vehicles. The others said they planned to sleep under bridges or overpasses, in abandoned buildings, at bus and train stations, or at the airport.

“We saw people’s belongings in their cars, and sometimes kids’ toys and children’s books,” Mata-Williams said. “It’s heart-wrenching to know this is their last grasp … to try to make it into housing.”

To address homelessness in Denton County communities, the Denton County Housing and Homelessness Leadership Team has noted in its strategic plan that it has:

Created the Housing Crisis Response Team

Developed the Denton County coordinated entry process

  • Created the Barriers Fund
  • Created the Homeless Data Dashboard
  • Started the landlord outreach initiative
  • Maintained “consistent” case conferencing meetings
  • Maintained the Coordinated Entry Housing Priority List with community partners
  • Used data to increase the diverse stock of supportive and “affordable” housing
  • Adapted diversion strategy into the Housing Crisis Response System

Over the last seven years, 983 people have moved through the Housing Crisis Response System to “be successfully housed,” Mata-Williams said.

That “is a major win for Denton County. It can take six to 12 months to get someone rehoused,” she said.

With a Point-in-Time Count of 518, Denton County is faring substantially better in terms of homelessness, albeit with a smaller sampling size, than the combined populations of Dallas and Collin counties of 3.8 million. Housing Forward reported in April that an estimated 3,718 people experienced homelessness in January in the two counties — a 19% decrease in overall homelessness and a 24% decrease in unsheltered homelessness since 2021.

Polling conducted by The Dallas Express shows that roughly 75% of Dallas residents think homelessness, vagrancy, and aggressive panhandling are “major” problems in the city. Respondents also appeared to be generally in support of the “one-stop-shop” homeless services model utilized by Haven for Hope in San Antonio. The model has been credited with a 77% reduction in unsheltered homelessness in the city’s downtown neighborhood.

Some local stakeholders want to try the model out in Dallas. However, it is unclear whether City officials will support such an initiative.

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