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The Denton County Homelessness Leadership Team looks to confront homelessness in Denton

The Denton County Homelessness Leadership Team looks to confront homelessness in Denton

The Denton County Homelessness Leadership Team looks to confront homelessness in Denton
October 29
00:29 2017

 The Denton County Homelessness Leadership Team (DCHLT) was awarded an Emergency Solutions Grant (ESG) on Oct. 13 after losing out on the money last year. The City of Denton created DCHLT in 2016 with the goal of lowering homelessness in the county.

Courtney Cross, Director of Homelessness Initiatives for the United Way of Denton County said DCHLT didn’t receive the grant last year because they set a goal to house a specific number of people but didn’t reach it. In response, the organization had to lower a number of people committed to housing to receive the grant.

“We kept setting our numbers high and not meeting them so we consciously lowered the number of households and the people we plan to house knowing that we will still have a need,” Cross said.

The community had difficult conversations leading up to this decision. The help from ESG allows the team to house 13 to 16 families on average. Cross said that leaves about 13 families in need of housing.

DCHLT is currently working with landlords to increase housing and look for fundraising opportunities across the county.

In 2015 Denton Mayor Chris Watts convened a task force to access housing availability and need in Denton. This resulted in the need for a paid coordinator position with a county-wide perspective.

The city looked at United Way to fulfill this position and hired Cross. This started a partnership between the City of Denton and United Way. Together they created the DCHLT, which launched in 2016.

“At United Way, our mission is to improve lives and if we see housing as a barrier to a way of living then we want to be committed to our mission and our vision of improving lives,” Cross said. “It directly ties back to our mission.”

Danielle Shaw, the human services coordinator for the City of Denton, said the city switched to a system-wide perspective on homelessness, which means all the agencies are working towards common goals.

“While the agencies were doing a great job at their own thing, a system-wide approach allows us to look at the overall view of what’s happening around homelessness,” Shaw said. “It creates really strong, evidence-based, cost-effective practices that will stop the problem.”

The DCHLT consists of 22 elected officials, including board members from homeless and housing service agencies, people from workforce development, higher education and the healthcare field. Their mission is to “foster an effective and coordinated system of homelessness prevention and intervention, resulting in homelessness that is rare, brief and nonrecurring,” according to their 2017-2020 strategic plan.

They have four work groups to help accomplish that mission. A housing group, a data group, a workforce development group, which streamlines referrals to workforce opportunities, and a community conversations group, which includes people that lived through homelessness.

Cross believes everyone should have a place to live and hopes the DCHLT can help with that.

“I do believe it is a human right,” Cross said. “I think it is connected to everything. It’s connected to health, mental health. It’s connected to well-being and reaching goals in your life. It shouldn’t be that hard to find a place to live. It’s challenging but it’s a chance to get creative as a society and see how to come up with creative solutions.”

Cross said homelessness is difficult to define, but they developed a definition that falls into four categories. The first one being chronic/literal. These are people living in an environment not meant for human habitation The second category is at-risk, which are people losing their primary nighttime residence. There is a category for youth, which consists of families with children or unaccompanied children with unstable homes. Lastly, there is a category for domestic violence. Anyone fleeing from domestic violence and has no place to stay would fall into this category.

These factors make homelessness difficult to measure. The Homeless Management Information System, or HMIS, is a program that tracks homelessness data. Literal homelessness was measured in Denton County on September 30.

There are 517 total assessments of households experiencing literal homelessness. Out of those 517 people, 64 are veterans. The HMIS also counted 490 individuals and 27 families living with literal homelessness.

Another way to measure homelessness is the point in time (PIT) count, a survey intended to create a snapshot of homelessness on any given day. PIT is an annual census of people experiencing homelessness conducted by volunteers. The count for 2017 was done on January 26.

A total of 230 people were surveyed and 39 of those were chronically homeless. It also found 70 percent of the homelessness population were males while 30 percent were women. Out of those counted, 62.1 percent were white, 18.8 percent were hispanic and 8.7 percent were black.

Shaw addressed the importance of combating the homelessness in Denton and how it affects the general public.

“Having housing stability within the people who live and reside in Denton creates stability for the entire community,” Shaw said. “It means there is less of a tax on resources.  It means we have the ability to address people who have chronic issues with illness. It’s just overall a good thing to help people with a need.”

Cross also discussed the role and thoughts of the general public when it comes to homelessness. She said it affects everyone in a different way whether it is fear, compassion or frustration. Cross said the public can help by volunteering with local agencies, raising money on behalf of local agencies, giving directly to agencies, volunteering time and resources and calling their representatives.

Cross said Denton County is projected to grow over 350 percent in the next 30 years and the team has to prepare for this increase.

“We are going to see a tremendous amount of growth in this county and it’s already becoming difficult for people to afford to live here,” Cross said. “We really see it has our responsibility as an initiative through the Denton County Homelessness Leadership team to preemptively and proactively plan for that.”

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Devin Rardin

Devin Rardin

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