Monday, September 1, 2014

Annual Census Highlights Dallas’s Successes and Challenges in the Fight to End Homelessness

Dallas, Texas - The report on the 2014 federally mandated Point-In-Time Homeless Count and Census, conducted by the Metro Dallas Homeless Alliance (MDHA), highlights a number of figures that give Mike Faenza, MDHA’s President and CEO, great satisfaction. “Since 2005, we, in Dallas, have decreased chronic homelessness by 65%, and the number of people sleeping outdoors by about 50%,” said Faenza, in an exclusive interview with the Dallas Morning News.  The federal government defines persons who have been homeless for a year and have a disability, as chronically homeless. “We accomplished this through increasing permanent supportive housing (PSH) units by 1200% to over 2000 units in that same time frame,” Faenza said, “PSH works, and through this evidence based solution, we will end chronic homelessness here in Dallas.”
MDHA, perhaps most well-known for launching and operating The Bridge, a $28 million homeless intake center in Dallas, before spinning it off as a separate non-profit at the end of 2011, is an alliance of non-profit organizations devoted to ending homelessness in Dallas and Collin Counties. It facilitates about $17,000,000 of annual federal funding, coordinates services and through the use of a sophisticated software system, drives improvement in more than 45 different housing programs, run by over 20 different non-profit and local government grantees. Its momentum is felt well beyond these specific programs. “Due to our partnership with MDHA, we prioritized the housing of those experiencing homelessness, and have so far housed more than 3400 formerly homeless individuals and families,” said MaryAnn Russ, President and CEO of the Dallas Housing Authority and a MDHA board member. “In monetary terms, with an average rent of $700 per month, our investment tops $28,000,000 annually. This would not be happening, if not for Faenza and MDHA’s forward thinking.”

The Count
Every year, across the nation, at the end of January, organizations like MDHA count the people experiencing homelessness in each and every community. Here in Dallas, partner agencies and MDHA grantees count guests and residents in shelters and housing sites, while more than 200 community volunteers, with the help of Dallas police officers locate and count those living outdoors. Similar counts are conducted by the Collin County Homeless Coalition and by the cities of Garland, Irving and Mesquite. The cost of this huge operation in Dallas is subsidized by the Real Estate Council Foundation.

The Data
Those experiencing homelessness are asked to fill out surveys to gather important information to help assess their needs, and better serve them. This information complements data MDHA gathers and analyzes all year round from each federally funded homeless program, through a Homeless Management Information System (HMIS). Each provider, as well as the continuum as a whole receives a monthly letter grade, based on this data. This system has allowed MDHA to improve PSH services by over 30% in just two years.

Britton Banowsky, Commissioner of Conference USA, and Chair of the MDHA board, is cautiously optimistic, but mindful of the challenges ahead, “Our goal is simple. We want to find an adequate housing solution for all homeless people in our community. We continue to make great progress, but we have a long way to go and need everyone's help to get there.” The report echoes Banowsky’s note of caution, and emphasizes a number of trends, which come as no surprise to MDHA staff, including an increase in the total number of people experiencing homelessness, including families with children, and an unacceptably high number of veterans experiencing homelessness. MDHA works with a number of programs that specifically target families and veterans, and in 2015 will begin facilitating funding for some Rapid Rehousing programs. Rapid Re-Housing programs are designed to quickly re-house those families and individuals about to experience homelessness, or who have recently begun to experience homelessness, before the effects resulting from homelessness can negatively impact them.

Faenza emphasizes that the fight against homelessness is just a piece of the puzzle. “Dallas still has some of the highest poverty rates in the country, affordable housing is scarce, and the mental health provider reimbursement system is dismally underfunded. We firmly believe we can lower the rate of chronic homelessness to zero, but that will not make these larger problems go away.”   

Strategic Stewardship
As the steward of the largest source of funding for those experiencing homelessness in Dallas, MDHA is strategic and frugal regarding the funds it brings to Dallas and Collin Counties. “Carefully spending federal money on evidence-based programs is ultimately better for everyone, including the American taxpayer,” said David Gruber, MDHA’s Development Manager, “Obviously, this is a moral issue, first and foremost. However, if you are concerned about government spending, you will want to support these programs even more. Research shows that the most cost-effective solution to homelessness is putting people back into homes, and that leads to less, not more, government spending.” MDHA intends to add another 1800 PSH units by the end of 2016, and through that end chronic homelessness in Dallas and Collin Counties.

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