Depending on how you look at it, homelessness in the Fort Worth area continues to be on the decline, or creeping back up, according to the latest studies.
At the Feb. 4 Fort Worth City Council work session, the council received an informal report from Tara Perez, Directions Home Manager. The report concerned the review of data trends, particularly for Fort Worth and its continuum of care (CoC) service area, which consists of Tarrant and Parker Counties.
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) annually publishes results of the prior year’s point in time (PIT) count of homeless populations. These data are used to analyze successes and inform funding decisions.
The City of Fort Worth comprises 87 percent of the CoC homeless population, while the City of Arlington comprises another 12 percent.
Since 2007, studies show overall homelessness in the United States has declined by 12 percent, while in Texas it has declined by 35 percent, and in Tarrant/Parker Counties it has declined by 29 percent.
“There’s been a whole lot of progress. We’re not only decreasing homelessness, but we’re decreasing homelessness a lot faster than the nation as a whole,” Perez said.
While the long-term trend shows homelessness to be decreasing, from 2018-2019 there was, however, a nationwide increase of 3 percent in overall homelessness, a 2 percent increase in Texas, and a 1 percent increase in Tarrant/Parker Counties.
While the other numbers have fluctuated in recent years, one group that has seen the largest increase locally in the past dozen years is the unsheltered population. In Tarrant/Parker Counties, there was an increase of 179 percent in this group from 2007 to 2019, mostly because of the loss of transitional housing beds, a number that would be even higher were it not for the City of Fort Worth and Directions Home stepping in together to help.
From 2007 to 2019, there was a loss of 703 transitional beds, and the corresponding increase of 141 emergency shelter beds was not enough to offset that loss, resulting in fewer beds and an increased unsheltered population.
The combined effort by the city and Directions Home led to a 17 percent decrease in unsheltered homelessness in 2018-19. In 2018, the city funded overflow emergency shelter beds because regular shelter beds were at or nearing capacity on many nights. These overflow beds were highly utilized, and considering this success, Directions Home continued to provide overflow shelter beds in 2019.
In 2018-19, Tarrant/Parker Counties saw a 14 percent decrease in youth homelessness. Youth are a prioritized population for local rapid rehousing, which contributes to lowering that homelessness rate.
Chronic homelessness did increase by 12 percent in Tarrant/Parker counties from 2018-2019. There was a reduction of 30 permanent supportive housing (PSH) beds in that span. PSH beds also have low turnover, which means that people are staying housed, but it also reduces opportunities to house new chronically homeless.
“While we’re trying to solve all homelessness, it’s been very helpful to take care of it in chunks,” Perez said, noting the addressing of the issue with sub-populations such as veterans, family, chronic and youth (defined by the department of Housing and Urban Development as ages 18-24). “I think that’s one of the things that’s been very helpful, is focusing on those sub-populations.”
CHRONIC AND NON-CHRONIC
For chronic homelessness, the most effective intervention is permanent supportive housing. The allocation of $5 million for the development of permanent supportive housing by the Fort Worth Housing Finance Corporation, with a matching $5 million from local foundations, will spur development of new units, Perez noted in her report.
The report also stated there are several effective interventions for the non-chronic population based on vulnerability. A large portion of this population exits on its own without any funding. And then there’s a new intervention created by Directions Home known as Rapid Exit. This provides one-time assistance to return people quickly to housing. It also received a boost in funding at the Feb. 4 regular council session from $330,000 to $730,000.
Directions Home has also increased funding for diversion to decrease the number of people who even enter homelessness. Rapid rehousing programs provide rental assistance and case management for up to 12 months for non-chronic households needing more support.
COMPARISON TO OTHER TEXAS METRO AREAS
Overall, Fort Worth has one of the lowest rates of homelessness among large CoCs throughout the state.
Houston has the state’s greatest reduction in homelessness during the past 15 years. This success is attributable to various factors, including development of coordinated-entry system, allocation of housing vouchers for homeless persons (up to 250 vouchers per year plus 1,000 project-based PSH vouchers), and development of 2,500 units of permanent supportive housing.
MORE FUNDING FOR PRESBYTERIAN NIGHT SHELTER
On the heels of an informal report at the work session earlier in the day, the Fort Worth City Council authorized an amendment to to add $400,000 to the city’s contract with the Presbyterian Night Shelter (PNS) of Tarrant County. The additional funding extends the contract amount to $730,000 to provide for the Rapid Exit program and employment services.
“This funding of the Presbyterian Night Shelter of Tarrant County is another example of the public policy in place to reduce homelessness,” District 4 Councilman Cary Moon said. “In 2019, homelessness in Tarrant County is down 29%. We can help folks in need. We can help with permanent shelter, meals and workforce training.”
In April 2019, the council authorized agreements with various public service agencies for initiatives for Directions Home, the city homelessness plan. One of the contracts approved was with PNS for a new program for Rapid Exit and employment case management with the intent to improve the flow at emergency shelters and reduce homelessness by
quickly connecting clients who need very limited assistance with housing.
The contract was originally for $330,000 as it was not known at that time how much demand there would be for this type of intervention. However over six months of operation, 38 clients have been connected to employment, and 137 people have been permanently housed.
“The Rapid Exit program at Presbyterian Night Shelter has been so successful in getting people into housing that we are expanding it,” District 3 Councilman Brian Byrd said. “Since we are moving funds from one program to another it is budget neutral for the city.”
City officials determined that this demonstrates a great need in the system for this one-time intervention to quickly get people out of shelter and into housing.
The additional $400,000 is from one-time funding as a result of savings generated by the change to the program-year in FY2019.
“I support the work of any kind of program that will help anyone become self-sufficient,” District 5 Councilwoman Gyna Bivens said.