DAYL President’s Page

One Homeless Child is One Too Many

April 2019

You have probably observed more of our neighbors experiencing homelessness in and around Dallas.  You might have seen the proliferation of tents and temporary shelters across pockets of Dallas, or you may have encountered new homeless individuals stationed at different busy intersections.  But you have likely observed adults, not kids, experiencing homelessness.  While adult homelessness is a tragedy worth our attention, homelessness for Dallas’ youth is an unacceptable affliction for our community– one we young lawyers are called to turn and face.

The DAYL worked with the Metro Dallas Homeless Alliance (the “MDHA”) this past January to count our homeless neighbors in the 2019 Point in Time Count, sending almost 40 DAYL volunteers out into a cold January night to interview individuals experiencing homelessness and to collect survey data regarding their history and circumstances.  DAYL team vehicles deployed across Dallas to scour various assigned districts, spending a long evening searching for homeless individuals and interviewing them about their background, the circumstances that predated their homelessness, and other demographic information.

The MDHA compiled the data collected by over 1,500 volunteers and released the results last month, and they are troubling.  Compared to the January 2018 Count results, Dallas experienced an 8% increase in unsheltered homelessness and a 16% increase in emergency sheltered homelessness, with an overall increase in all homelessness of 9% throughout Dallas County.  That translates into at least 4,538 people– our neighbors– experiencing homelessness in Dallas, with 1,452 living and sleeping outside and without shelter.  This is the second consecutive year we’ve seen a rise in homelessness, after the number dipped a half a percent in 2017.  Overall homelessness, veteran homelessness, and chronic homelessness all rose this past year.

These statistics are particularly tough to swallow, as Texas and Dallas are prospering mightily. Of the 12 largest metropolitan areas around the country surveyed by the Department of Labor, Dallas had the second highest rate of job growth over the past year at 2.8%, exceeding the national average of 1.7%.

But perhaps most tragically, the Count revealed that at least 732 children are homeless in Dallas County, either as part of a family that is homeless or as unaccompanied youth on the street.  The thought of a child living without shelter, in the midst of the confusion and fear that already comes with being a child, is almost too much to bear.  Growing up is already hard enough– children should not have to do it without sufficient shelter, food, and security.

The MDHA’s tragic report was only compounded by the Center for Transforming Lives’ recent report, entitled “The Hidden Homeless: Early Childhood Homelessness in Tarrant County,” which found that while the Tarrant County Homeless Coalition reported 282 homeless children under the age of 18 living in Tarrant County in 2018 (likely the result of a similar Point in Time Count conducted by MDHA), Tarrant County’s Community Response to Homelessness in Early Childhood (CRHEC) Alliance determined, upon further investigation of HUD data and Tarrant County schools data, that 14,981 children under the age of 18 experience homelessness at some point each year in Tarrant County.  Further, between 7,400 and 7,500 children under the age of six experience homelessness each year in Tarrant County.  These numbers are beyond the pale.

While these figures are staggering, they are not beyond hope, and this challenge is not beyond young lawyers’ reach.  Despite this rising crisis, you and I can do something to help these kids.  The DAYL’s Aid to the Homeless Committee and the reconstituted Lawyers Serving Children committee are already pursuing partnerships with DISD and several local non-profits addressing childhood homelessness every day.

One such group is Focus on Teens, a group pursuing a holistic approach to address teen homelessness in Dallas and Fort Worth.  Focus on Teens offers and staffs “Drop-In Centers” for homeless teens on high school campuses, where kids experiencing homelessness can come by and get breakfast, pick up school supplies, talk with a volunteer (if they so desire), and find a safe place to rest and get ready for the day.  Focus on Teens works further to address additional focus areas for teens, parents, and teachers: Emergency Food and Supplies, Drug Abuse Prevention and Awareness, Suicide Prevention, Healthy Living (a Mental Health Awareness Seminar) and a “Get Started” Intern Program.  Similar groups include Promise House, City House, the Fannie C. Harris Youth Center, Outlast Youth, and Dallas Hope Center, which provide support, care, and advocacy to youth experiencing homelessness.

Groups like Focus on Teens, and the kids they are helping, need your help.  If you would like to engage these groups through DAYL, contact me, any of our board members, or Cherie Harris.   Or join the fight by attending our next Aid to the Homeless committee meeting, at 7:30 am at Cafe Brazil in Deep Ellum on April 18, or our next Lawyers Serving Children committee meeting, at 6:00 pm at Dallas CASA on April 23.  It is vital that we young lawyers– with the privileges, resources, and abilities we enjoy– step up and confront this challenge head-on.  We look forward to having you join us.