How to count the homeless? Dallas may be getting it right this year

Due to the pandemic, Dallas is changing the way the annual census of its homeless population is conducted. This is good news, and we think Dallas should pursue this new system even after the pandemic ends.

The US Department of Housing and Urban Development requires a census of the homeless in major cities. In the past, Dallas conducted its census in a massive one-night effort that involved up to 1,750 volunteers.

In 2019, the one-night snapshot showed there were 3,722 homeless in Dallas, 1,153 of whom were unprotected. Daniel Roby, executive director of Austin Street Center, said that there are approximately 10,000 people in and out of homelessness in Dallas each year.

This year, due to the pandemic, HUD relaxed its rules and Dallas officials are taking a different approach. Instead of hundreds of volunteers in one evening, the Metro Dallas Homeless Alliance will deploy a team of approximately 100 professionals to work methodically around the city from February 18 to March 3. This seems like a wise change to us for a number of reasons.

First, it protects a vulnerable population. MDHA spokesman David Gruber said people with homelessness are three to four times more likely to get COVID-19 than the general population.

“The acceptable number of people infected by this count is zero,” said Gruber.

Second, it is difficult to ensure consistency among 1,750 volunteers. Homeless advocates tell stories of volunteers who “appreciate” the size of camps or gatherings. Professionals can engage respondents more effectively and carry out all steps.

Roby said training has been sparse over the past few years.

“The only workout you really get is a YouTube video and an hour-long orientation on the night of,” said Roby. “For these reasons, you are getting more specific information from the teams going out this year. We will have fewer people collecting information, but that information will be better. “

If this system provides better data, we recommend that you keep it after this year. Houston counted over several days for several years, and officials there told us it contributed to better data.

We should also note that Dallas is finding a way to move the census up while other cities don’t. Several cities, including Austin, Los Angeles, and Denver, have requested that HUD exemptions simply be skipped this year. According to reports from Reuters, nearly 60% of agencies doing point counting have requested exemptions or exemptions this year.

We’re glad Dallas is pushing for more accurate data as the city grapples with a panhandling problem and the nation faces the prospect of increased displacement and homelessness. Helping the homeless doesn’t just mean having enough shelter beds or soup kitchens. It is also about understanding the causes of homelessness and the population affected. We encourage homeless lawyers to continue this course.

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