FORT WORTH — Chronic homelessness in Tarrant County increased by 60 percent since last year, leading community leaders to say more attention must be paid to that population in the future.It is estimated that the county needs an additional 643 beds for the chronically homeless and an additional 145 beds for homeless veterans if it wants to get those individuals off the street by 2015, said Cindy J. Crain, executive director of the Tarrant County Homeless Coalition. “As the length of time of homelessness extends on and on, year after year, your social networks end and the disabling conditions become much more confounded,” Crain said. “And then we have to deal with that, and those individuals are served primarily by emergency first responders.” Crain released the numbers at a State of the Homeless Address on Wednesday. The population count, and the need for solutions was based on the 2014 Point in Time Count population count that was taken on Jan. 23.A chronically homeless person is someone who has a disabling condition and has been continuously homeless for at least a year, or homeless at least four times in the past three years, according to the United States Department of Housing. There were 331 chronically homeless counted in 2014, compared with 208 in 2013. There were 189 veterans in 2014 compared with 217 in 2013, Crain said. Overall, the 2014 Point in Time Count counted 2,451 homeless people, an increase in 3 percent from 2013. The county, city and other organizations will have to identify more funding to end homeless in those two categories, she said. A new goal for the Continuum of Care, a comprehensive plan to address homelessness for municipalities and organizations in Tarrant County, is to reduce the incidence of sexual and physical violence against homeless women. As one way to address the problem, a formerly homeless woman and victim of domestic violence recommended installing the blue emergency poles on East Lancaster Avenue, similar to those seen on college campuses. The Continuum of Care plan also aims to reduce the number of people experiencing homelessness, reduce the length of homelessness and end family homelessness by 2020. The Fort Worth school district has counted well over 1,600 homeless children and youths in the school system, said June Davis, director of special programs for the district.The school district works to identify those children and then provide essential services, such as tutoring, meals and transportation to school, she said. Obstacles for the homeless Several homeless and formerly homeless individuals spoke at the event, bringing up concerns for those on the streets, such as a lack of security on East Lancaster Avenue, a lack of parking, an inability to get hired and a need for a secure place to store belongings. Pat Murphy, a formerly homeless man who fought in the Vietnam War, said everyone is one catastrophic event or ill-advised decision away from homelessness. “Due to a condition that eventually was given the fancy title of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, I spent the vast majority of 35 years living in the woods,” said Murphy, who has been in housing for the past three years. “I have no means of keeping personal hygiene up to the level most jobs require. I have nowhere to send mail to. When does my job start?” Murphy said as an example of how difficult it is for homeless to get jobs. “To those who say that — get a job — my question to you is: how many homeless have you hired?” The need for jobs for the homeless is one obstacle Crain hopes to address with the launch of a new website, iwillwork.org. The website, which she hopes to have live by this summer, will be a combination of LinkedIn and match.com, and will try to match homeless people looking for jobs with employers willing to hire them. “A lot of people do not want to hire a homeless individual and we have tried a lot of programs,” Crain said.Proposed plans for addressing homelessness Crain also presented the draft of the 2014 Continuum of Care Strategic Plan during the address, which will go to the Continuum of Care Board of Directors on April 9 for approval. The first proposed objective is to end chronic homeless by increasing the supply of permanent supportive housing beds. To do that, the Tarrant County Homeless Coalition will seek local funding for match programs, advocate for the development of supportive housing and request new program grants. They will also increase the portion of existing beds dedicated to the chronically homeless and implement an Independent Housing Readiness Assessment to help move people out of assisted housing if they are able. Other objectives include increasing housing stability, increasing the incomes of the homeless and formerly homeless, helping participants obtain mainstream benefits, reducing family homelessness and for the Continuum of Care Board of Directors to lead the county in a unified and transparent plan. “Homelessness can be limited, but it takes the effort of the city, the agencies and the community. Just like they say it takes a village to raise a child, it takes a village to correct a problem,” said Murphy.
Caty Hirst, 817-390-7984 Twitter: @catyhirst