A new decade means a new national census, which will provide a fresh take on the state of the country.
However, the country is also preparing for a different census in 2020 that will give insight to who is currently living without a home.
The Point in Time count, set this year for Jan. 23, is an annual one-night event in which volunteers will survey their communities to count and interview those who are living without a home. Volunteers can sign up with local cities or organizations to help make the count as accurate as possible.
While the Point in Time count doesn’t capture statistics of every unsheltered person in the community, the one-night census serves as a “snapshot” understanding of what the homeless community looks like on a given night. Included in the count are survey questions including whether or not the person is a veteran.
The statistics collected from that single evening serve as an indication of who in the community is experiencing homelessness. Those numbers also bring in federal funding for agencies providing direct services, said Terry Hockenbrough, president of the Collin County Homeless Coalition board of directors.
The count depends on multiple factors, including the day’s weather and how many volunteers take part, according to a report from United Way of Denton County and the Denton County Homeless Coalition.
“Depending on how many people we have trained and scheduled and ready to go out to every part of the county, this really impacts the accuracy of the count that we get,” said Courtney Cross, director of mental health and housing initiatives with United Way of Denton County.
Volunteers are trained to stay safe and to be respectful as they approach someone they think might be homeless, Hockenbrough said. They will work in groups and with police officers during the census, using a mobile app to go through the survey.
In January 2019, the report from United Way of Denton County and the Denton County Homeless Coalition recorded 194 people surveyed, the county’s lowest number in the past seven years.
Last year, Collin County documented 558 people, its highest total over the past seven years.
“I'd like to say it's because of the volunteers, but I think we didn't really see a difference in the volunteers,” Hockenbrough said. “I think it really is more indicative of the number of people who are experiencing it in our county.”
Affordable housing is a top issue across North Texas, with about 15 percent of respondents in Collin County saying lack of affordable housing was a reason for their homelessness. The top reported reason for homelessness among the Collin County respondents was inability to pay rent or mortgage at about 30 percent.
The top reported reason for homelessness in the Denton County report was unemployment, followed by inability to pay rent or mortgage.
“We're just facing a lot of growth, and with that comes increased cost of living,” Cross said, “and so the folks that find themselves in their situation, a lot of what exists is just not accessible to them for different reasons. And so we know we need a more kind of diverse stock of affordable housing. But we also just need the financial assistance in the community to be able to house people.”
She said mental health support was also needed to help the numbers change.
As the next PIT count date approaches, the coalitions and cities alike are preparing volunteers for the count that will take place, as Frisco’s sign-up page puts it, “rain, snow, ice or shine.”