Helping the DFW Homeless Youth

Dallas and Collin counties will get $9.4 million to help young people facing homelessness

Dallas will receive $9.4 million from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to prevent young people from becoming homeless, and to reduce the time unhoused young people spend on the street when they do lose housing.

A press conference announcing the funds — complete with an oversized check for $9,392,854 — served as a victory lap for a number of people who’ve worked for years to win the federal youth homelessness funds for the region. Cheers erupted when Valenzuela announced that the Dallas area had gotten the largest allocation of the 16 sites across the nation receiving the funding.

“Nobody should live without the basic human dignity of shelter. But least of all, youth,” said Peter Brodsky, who chairs the board of Housing Forward, the organization that coordinates the homeless services network in Dallas and Collin Counties.

The funds are part of HUD’s Youth Homelessness Demonstration Project, which is aimed at finding strategies to help 18- to 24-year-olds facing homelessness and funding the services and programs they need.

The most vulnerable
There are a range of factors that drive young people to become homeless, but there are two groups advocates say are especially vulnerable. Youth aging out of foster care are at extremely high risk for falling into homelessness. About 20% of former foster youth experience homelessness within the first year of after aging out of foster care, according to the National Foster Youth Institute.

“Those youth start [their adult lives] with a variety of needs. They may not have the connection with their birth families, they may not have the resources to effectively navigate the adult world like college or career or finding the resources they need,” said Joli Angel Robinson, who runs Housing Forward.

LGBTQ youth also face significantly higher rates of homelessness than their straight and cisgender peers, said Jason Vallejo, who works with unhoused young people at Elevate North Texas. They’re more likely to be kicked out of their homes by family members that don’t accept them.

Vallejo said his organization is also still seeing a number of people becoming homeless as a consequence of the COVID-19 pandemic. In some cases, one or both parents or caretakers died, leaving young adult children on their on. In others, families living paycheck to paycheck lost work and have never been able to catch up, leading to eviction.

These factors can often compound. In one recent case, Vallejo said, a transgender man came to Elevate after leaving a homeless shelter because he felt unsafe and his gender identity wasn’t respected. His parents died of COVID. An uncle housed him for a while, but eventually kicked him out. He’d found a transitional housing program, but left because he felt unsafe and his gender identity wasn’t respected by the staff.

“The good news is that we were able to reunite him with his grandmother in Austin, and he’s doing great,” Vallejo said.

But many young people don’t find a safe place to land and an organization like Elevate that can connect them with a place to live.

“We know from surveying the older, chronically homeless that 75% of them say their first experience of homelessness was in this 18- to 24-year-old range,” Vallejo said.

How will the money be spent?

Housing Forward tapped a board of young people who have experienced homelessness to determine the projects that would be included in the application for the federal funds.

A top priority was a space – or multiple spaces across Dallas and Collin Counties — where young people in crisis can feel safe and get help. The funding will also be used to improve services and increasing housing options for young people facing homelessness.

“Our community’s vision for ending youth homelessness centering racial equity [and] amplifying the voices of youth with lived experience” of homelessness,” Robinson said.

These youth action boards, as they’re called, a key element to the federal program, said HUD Regional Director Candace Valenzuela, who experienced homelessness herself as a child.

“They must be full partners in this process, including planning, project development and project implementation. Youth with lived experience bring a critical skillset to this work,” Valenzuela said.

The latest round of funding comes on top of a major $22.8 million grant from HUD announced earlier this year to reduce unsheltered homelessness and support efforts to help stabilize people at risk of becoming homeless. This spring, the department selected the Dallas area as one of six regions to get targeted support from HUD experts in curbing homelessness.

About $72 million of federal coronavirus relief funds were bundled together to launch a rapid-rehousing program in 2021, which has housed about 2,400 people so far.

According to the latest point-in-time count, Dallas and Collin Counties had just over 4,200 people experiencing homelessness at the beginning of 2023, and saw a 32% decrease in chronic homelessness and a 14% decrease in unsheltered homelessness from the previous year’s count.


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