United Way of Denton County

From left, United Way of Denton County staff members Elena Lusk, director of housing initiatives; Madeline Fink, homelessness data management specialist, and Leia Atkinson, rapid rehousing case manager, hold supplies for the upcoming point-in-time count Tuesday. The Denton County Homelessness Coalition will have volunteers count and survey the local unsheltered population on Jan. 27.

While the 2021 point-in-time report isn’t available yet, the Denton County Homelessness Coalition is gearing up to once again have volunteers count the local unsheltered population in person — something they mostly avoided last year due to the pandemic.

The annual point-in-time count serves to give local organizations a tally of how many people are experiencing homelessness on one day in January. This year, nonprofits and volunteers will survey people experiencing homelessness on Jan. 27.

“It’s far more than just a requirement from the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development,” said Gary Henderson, the president and CEO of United Way of Denton County. “The point-in-time [count’s] core purpose for us is making sure the federal government understands what our population of need is so it drives the proper level of federal funding. In my eyes, any opportunity we have to send someone out to have conversations with people struggling with housing instability, it’s a win-win.”

Henderson said those continuous conversations between nonprofits and people experiencing homelessness throughout the year — not just on the scheduled count day — help build trust with these Denton County residents when it comes time for this federally mandated count. In the survey, they are asked questions related to demographics and how long they have been without a home.

Elena Lusk, the local United Way’s director of housing initiatives, said they’re hoping the larger return to in-person counting will give them a better count of who is experiencing homelessness in Denton County.

“It’s a little disappointing because we were only able to survey people in shelters last year,” Lusk said. “We counted 176 people in 2021, which is a dramatic reduction from 2020. … The data is not as accurate or reflective of what our community was experiencing [in January 2021].”

Lusk said the organization’s homelessness data dashboard would be more reflective of the county because it’s updated each month. It shows the number of people who are actively homeless, and breaks down that number into homeless veterans, chronically homeless people and homeless people escaping domestic violence.

The coalition counted 176 people just in shelters last year for the point-in-time count, but the dashboard showed there were 284 people experiencing homelessness that month. The figure stayed in the 200s up until the summer, when it started to increase, creeping up to 601 on Nov. 30.

Lusk said they have the numbers for the 2021 count, but there’s been a delay in getting the full report put together because the numbers came back to them later than expected.

Lusk said they worked with the local overnight shelters to count their clients, but they didn’t count anyone unsheltered in camps last year. Lusk said last year they didn’t bring out volunteers to survey people who were unsheltered as a precaution. Instead, volunteers put together packages filled with toiletries and necessities to drop off at United Way’s Denton office.

This year, volunteers will be return to surveying people who are unsheltered across the county. She said they’re short on volunteers. Henderson added that they can count more people across the county with more volunteers.

“It’s a really good opportunity for folks who may not be able to work with people experiencing homelessness every day to come and support the larger change,” Lusk said.

Residents can also help by filling bags with necessities like shampoo and conditioner, toothbrushes and toothpaste and dropping them off at United Way of Denton County’s office at 1314 Teasley Lane.

ZAIRA PEREZ can be reached at 940-566-6882 and via Twitter at @zairalperez.

Recommended for you

See what people are talking about at The Community Table!