Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Who Cares How Many People Experience Homelessness in Dallas?

It’s a purposefully provocative question, but you must admit that not everyone does. Back in February, we articulated very clearly why our values dictated that we count each and every person experiencing homelessness. However, counting these individuals and doing so accurately, is not just about valuing each individual, it is about problem solving. The only way we can solve a problem is if we know its nature and its scope. Certainly, the only way we can know if we are making progress in solving that problem, is through continuous, careful and evidence based measurement.

Now, absolute accuracy is usually theoretical, even when measuring objects scientifically, however to dismiss the importance of trying to reach results as accurately as we can because of this, would be nihilistic. Instead, we measure as accurately as we can, and we acknowledge our limitations, up front, before we even start to measure. If we properly minimize our limitations, as much as we can, we can reach valid numbers.
Indeed, this is why we have always been very public about the measure of accuracy that can be achieved, the need to improve our count, and how we have done just that since 2015. This is also why more than a fifth of the State of the Homeless Address, this past March, was devoted to the intricacies of scientific mapping and resulting count methodology for our annual Homeless Count.

So, how many people do experience homelessness in Dallas? In our playbook, we talk about two important numbers we always keep in mind, “the number of those experiencing homelessness at any one time, about 3,800 in our last count, and the number of those who experience homelessness throughout the year. The annual Homeless Count, conducted every year around the same time, gives us the first number, and throughout the year, we use our Homeless Management Information System (HMIS) to track the second number, which is around 9,750. Obviously, the second number is always going to be larger than the first one, since the second number includes anyone who was homeless throughout the 365 days of the year.

It is important to keep in mind the difference between the two numbers, because we have seen some confusion in this area. In fact, a claim that comes up again and again is that there are about 10,000 people in Dallas and Collin Counties who are experiencing homelessness, in the present tense. Though we are not totally sure where that number came from, those who originated it, were probably confusing the two very different numbers. There simply are not 10,000 people experiencing homelessness, currently, in our two counties. The data, i.e. factual reality, does not support such a number. 

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