Imagine you’re flying back home after a week visiting family. You get to your transfer destination, but you learn that your next flight has been canceled due to weather.
Now, you are stranded in a unknown city with only your luggage. You have to figure out where to sleep and eat, all while lugging around your possessions. Your stress spikes as you worry about whether you will have to sleep in the airport terminal for the night.
That situation can throw anyone out of sorts — but for the homeless, it’s everyday reality.
Otis Thornton, executive director of the Tarrant County Homeless Coalition, uses the metaphor to explain the benefit of “housing first” — getting homeless people into homes before facing other complications. But there is a significant hurdle in the way.
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The Tarrant County Homeless Coalition, TCHC, has released local 2017 homeless population numbers showing a decrease, but not a significant one.
Despite a renewed public interest, the homeless population in Tarrant and Parker counties hovers around 1,900 and has since 2015.
Part of what’s keeping that number from going down is that there are only 19 available, affordable, low-income apartments for every 100 needy households. The odds of matching a homeless person with one of them are daunting.
“We don’t have enough places for people to land,” Thornton told the Editorial Board in describing an “extreme shortage of affordable housing.”
Homelessness is easy to slide into but hard to escape.
Thornton and TCHC want to fix this by reorganizing and streamlining the system, making it easier for a homeless individual to navigate the stressful world of finding a home.
One of the goals is for all local aid organizations to work off the same wait list.
Thornton wants a “no-wrong-door approach,” saying these organizations should be saying more “yes, we will help you find what you need” and less “we don’t have the resources for that.”
TCHC is also doing some in-house streamlining. Thornton wants to minimize the number of meetings and time saying the same things, so the coalition will merge with the local Continuum of Care, a planning body that coordinates funding.
He also wants to create a “vision team,” of community leaders and elected officials.
But that only works on a part of the problem, the other is building enough affordable housing to get people off the streets.
Thornton stresses that a significant investment is needed if “we want Tarrant County to be a great place to live and everyone have a place to live.”
Although TCHC usually gets money from the Department of Housing and Urban Development, which gives about $12 million annually, Thornton put the cost of fixing the housing shortage in the $650 million range.
That might seem like a lot, but if we do nothing, the price will be much greater.
The Tarrant County Housing Coalition will have meetings across the county to discuss its new strategy and get more people aware and involved.
It will take a village to end homelessness — and money.