Homeless count

A person sleeps on a bench in November outside the Salvation Army shelter in Denton.

The state of Denton County’s homeless communities will be on display this week, when the United Way of Denton County hits downtown Denton to share its latest “point-in-time” count.

The new data suggests there may be fewer people living homeless in the county, with a total of 194 people surveyed on a night in January, down from 255 last year and 228 in 2017. But new metrics are giving the United Way and its collaborators fresh insights into the barriers that many people on the streets are living with.

For starters, of the 194 people who answered the survey in Denton County, about 73 percent of them said that before they became homeless, they were living by themselves.

To Courtney Cross, the local United Way’s director of homeless initiatives, this new metric calls for a deeper discussion about how people become homeless in communities in Denton County.

“It’s one of those things that you have kind of have a hunch about, but to have it so blatantly there in the day, it’s eye-opening,” she said Friday. “I think it also speaks to affordability” in housing.

Well over half of those surveyed had completed high school. Of those, 25% said high school was their highest level of education completed, while 28% attended some college and 6% received a college degree. As the cost of living continues to rise across the United States while wages are not, this was another eye-opener for Cross.

“I think we’re starting to feel the effects of it in our society,” she said. “Even with a high school education or even a college education, it doesn’t guarantee you can afford to live where you work or sustain your living situation.”

About 24% of the respondents didn’t finish high school or earn a GED, the data shows.

All of these nuances, Cross said, help guide the United Way and its partners to find the right solutions for people — and make sure the tools and assessments they’re deploying are even going to be practical.

Such is the case for African Americans who are living with homelessness. The data shows they are over-represented among the overall population of homeless people. According to the U.S. Census Bureau American FactFinder, about 8% of the U.S. population is black. But they make up nearly 18% of the homeless population, United Way’s data shows.

“I think we’re seeing it more in our community than we have in the past,” Cross said. “We’re definitely trying to be mindful of, are we using assessments that people of color are actually going to relate to?”

All of the data is available on the United Way of Denton County’s website at www.unitedwaydenton.org. A presentation is scheduled for 6 to 8 p.m. Wednesday on the Courthouse on the Square lawn.

DALTON LAFERNEY can be reached at 940-566-6882 and via Twitter at @daltonlaferney.

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