Thursday, January 5, 2017

The Story of Homelessness in Dallas Keeps Coming Back to One Simple Truth

It is my privilege to tell the story of the incredible work my twelve MDHA colleagues are doing, and beyond that the story of all those who play a part in our homeless response system. These include funders, policy makers, organizational management, case managers, and those experiencing homelessness themselves. Every time I write, from social media to grant requests, and every time I speak, from a one on one conversation to an invocation in front of hundreds, I try to tell the story of homelessness, and how we are working to make it rare, brief and nonrecurring. And every communication includes a call to action, be it implicit or explicit.

Now, this one overarching story of homelessness has many facets. Consequently, making homelessness rare, brief and nonrecurring, rarely involves silver bullets; it is usually all about silver buckshot. However, the more you carefully analyze the different facets of the problem and its solutions, the more you see that the same ideas, themes and challenges show up again and again.
Logo of United Way of Metropolitan Dallas
I noticed this again these last few days. I am currently working on a grant request we will be submitting shortly to United Way of Metropolitan Dallas, within the scope of their Basic Needs funding stream. We are seeking to renew their existing grant that provides funding for the MDHA Flex Fund.

If you know me, you know that I constantly talk about and write about the Flex Fund, which pays for minor but impactful expenditures that can help folks end their homelessness. We track every one of these expenditures in the Homeless Management Information System (HMIS), and we break them down into 16-17 different categories. This helps us better understand exactly what the current needs are. That way we, from the system level down to the case manager level, can better address those needs.

For the United Way of Metropolitan Dallas Basic Needs grant application, we are asked to produce detailed information not only regarding the individual solutions the Flex Fund provides, but also detailed demographic information about the population that is helped through the Flex Fund. Our HMIS team pored through the records, and gave me this demographic information, and one thing immediately jumped out at me.

The Flex Fund helped 129 persons or families during the second half of 2016, and here is their breakdown by race:
American Indian: 1
Asian: 1
Black: 87
Two or More Races: 5
White: 34
Unknown: 1
Without even calculating percentages, the number of persons of color, in general, and African-Americans, specifically, is immediately noticeable. When you actually do the math, and divide 87 by 129, the result is shocking yet eerily familiar – about 67%. If you are familiar with our previous posts on Racism and Homelessness, you have seen this percentage before. When we look at the homeless population, in Dallas County, as a whole, we find exactly the same percentage of African Americans!
Logo of the Unite Dallas Relief Fund
No matter what angle or facet of this problem we analyze, the story of homelessness in Dallas keeps coming back to one simple truth: Homelessness in Dallas, to our shame, is inextricably tied to race. Without addressing this, we won't be able to make homelessness rare, brief and nonrecurring. This is why United Way of Metropolitan Dallas' Unite Dallas Relief Fund awarded us $32,700 late last year to partner with the Center for Social Innovation and nine other cities to address Racism and Homelessness. Through this research and action program, we will begin to gain a better understanding of this problem, while we act to tackle it. That is the only way we can, in the words of United Way, lay “the foundation for a successful, just and united future in North Texas.”

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