Tarrant County's homeless population has grown 10 percent since 2011, and the number of people living unsheltered more than doubled, according to results of a count done in January.
It was the first reported increase in the homeless population since the counts began in 2006, according to the Tarrant County Homeless Coalition.
While the size of the overall increase was surprising, there could be explanations for the rise in unsheltered homeless, said Cindy Crain, executive director of the coalition. Unlike during most past counts, the temperature was mild during this year's census and volunteers found nearly 70 people living on sidewalks outside the shelters, up from 20 in 2011. More than 70 percent of the unsheltered homeless said they were outdoors by choice.
Also, road and building construction projects led to the removal of about 20 homeless campsites, so volunteers may have had an easier time finding people outside, she said.
"There is urbanization that is eating up green space, so there could be fewer places for them to be tucked away," Crain said. "In years past, we've said that we are probably only finding half of the people who were out there."
The federal Housing and Urban Development Department requires the census and survey for communities to receive federal funding for several housing and supportive services through the Continuum of Care.
The counts are held every two years. Tarrant County held its first count in 2006 as a practice run for the 2007 census.
Besides the unsheltered, homeless families also contributed to the population increase. The 2013 count found 338 homeless families with children, up from 292 in 2011.
The proportion of homeless people who are children grew 5 percent since 2011, from 26 to 31 percent, according to census results.
Carol Klocek, executive director of the YWCA Fort Worth & Tarrant County, said homeless families are most vulnerable because fewer resources are available to them. Homeless adults with children have been unable to access federal housing vouchers that chronically homeless adults use in supported housing, though that will change in 2014.
The result is more women with children stuck in shelters for longer periods, and shelters that serve families operating at or above capacity for the past two years, she said.
"These are children living in shelters waiting for their families to move into housing," Klocek said.
"This has significant negative effects on their physical health, development, future academic success and emotional health."
Alex Branch, 817-390-7689