Tarrant homelessness increase calls for community collaboration, commitment

Posted Saturday, Feb. 23, 2013  comments  Print Reprints

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The natural question in response to an increase in homeless people counted in Tarrant County is, What's the needed response?

A January count in Tarrant and Parker counties conducted through the Tarrant County Homeless Coalition found an overall homeless population of 2,390, up from 2,169 two years ago. The number of people who were unsheltered (meaning those living basically on sidewalks rather than in homeless shelters) was 281, up from 136 in 2011. More homeless families with children were also counted, 338, up from 292.

Some of the increase might be due to mild weather and other factors that brought unsheltered homeless people to locations where volunteers found them. But when 742 children younger than 17 are homeless, communities have more safety-net work to do.

The count every two years includes surveys that help determine how services should adapt to shifting needs.

Cindy Crain, executive director of the coalition, said the organization's most recent proposal for federal funding includes more money to get newly homeless parents with children quickly into housing. She said research by the Housing and Urban Development Department found that "rapid re-housing" was more effective than having them spend time in shelters.

The coalition is setting up an umbrella board to oversee the $12 million HUD "continuum of care" grant, with the goal of improving collaboration among agencies that provide services for the homeless. Some needs are already known: more supportive housing, more effective ways of getting homeless people into jobs and more aid for those with mental health issues.

Fort Worth, which has the largest share of homeless residents in Tarrant County, has a 10-year plan, "Directions Home," designed to end chronic homelessness. But overall funding has continued to drop.

For 2013-14, the program's fifth year, the city has allocated almost $2.5 million. Fort Worth received almost $930,000 from the state for homeless housing services and is seeking $1.8 million for the 2014-15 biennium.

Close to half the budget goes toward keeping formerly homeless residents in housing. A proposal for 2013-14 would double the amount for rental assistance because of rising costs.

The goal of ending chronic homelessness requires an ongoing community commitment to find and support solutions that work.

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