By Catrina Satterwhite

Homelessness is a worldwide problem. However, you may be unaware of just how pervasive the issue is in Dallas. To solve this problem, it takes organizations with strong leadership. Someone like Joli Angel Robinson.

I had the pleasure of chatting with Joli Angel Robinson who is the President and CEO of Housing Forward [HF}, formally known as the Metro Dallas Homeless Alliance. Housing Forward was founded in 2002 to serve as a collective voice for homelessness in Dallas and Collin counties. They have the expertise, partnerships, and resources to lead a system-wide, data-driven strategy to solve homelessness in our community. Robinson’s journey into this role started early on.

“I think my Mom did a tremendous job of instilling in my brother and I that really, we are here in life, and what we are charged to do, is really to help serve and support others and do this life alongside other people. I remember when we were growing up, for Christmas we were the family adopting other families. We were providing gifts for other families or maybe a Thanksgiving meal. That kind of spirit of always giving back, serving, and supporting communities, just continued to stay with me,” she said.

“I’m really grateful for her [Mom] connecting my brother and I to the realization that there are so many people out there that we could be helping to serve and support. It’s not always what we can get in this life, but it’s also what we can give, “she said.

Joli’s journey into this sector continued to grow.

Photo Credit: Stephanie Drenka

“When I was at Verizon, I was like I just want to volunteer on the side, be a CASA advocate. I decided to make a career pivot before I turned 30 to explore an opportunity to really serve the community every day. That led me to the City of Dallas working at the Dallas Police Department. I was a non-sworn civilian employee and that was in community engagement. I was also able to get engaged with some policy things working on affordable housing policy or working to support and volunteer in public education. I volunteered for several years at Roosevelt High School. Those things led to other opportunities. When it was time to transition, I received a call from Dallas Area Habitat about a position they had opened, and that went well. Then while I was working there, I received a call that they were looking for a President and CEO at HF, “ she said.

So why are homelessness statistics where they are now?

“From the research that has been done, if we had housing that really met the needs of everyone, homelessness wouldn’t be a problem. We are seeing an older aging population experiencing homelessness. We are seeing people with limited fixed incomes. The rising housing cost is making it extremely difficult to remain housed. The reason many people are hitting the homeless response system is that a lot of other systems may have failed them along the way, systems as education, criminal, or mental health. This also includes veterans,” she said.

The process of discovering the number of unhoused individuals can be tough.

“The organization I’m with, Housing Forward, we cover Dallas and Collin counties. Every year we schedule what is known as the annual point-in-time count (PIT). We have a lot of volunteers that come out. We fan the entirety of those two counties and ensure that we can get a count of individuals experiencing homelessness. In our last count, which was 2022, our data for 2023 will be released in April of this year, but last year we saw over 4,400 people experiencing homelessness across Dallas and Collin County. What we also know is that number doesn’t always take into account people that may be doubled up in their homes. It doesn’t take into account people that may be living in their cars either, so with that number we know with that research and analysis, that there are so many other people that are experiencing homelessness in our communities,” she said.

With the counting process, it can be compared to how a census would be done. Street outreach workers fan out and engage in the community. A series of questions are asked to individuals. This count also includes people that are in shelters. Being in a shelter is still considered to be a person unhoused. Age, race, and gender are some of the demographics taken into account.

“We know here locally, and this is kind of a national trend, the people we see most experiencing homelessness are Black men. We know one of those reasons has to be attributed to some of the systemic racism we’ve seen in a variety of other systems that unfortunately negatively impact our Black men in our communities and across our nation,” she said.

This dilemma also affects children, especially those who are aging out of the foster care system and HF also sees an over-representation of youth that are LGBTQ+ representing their youth unhoused population for several reasons.

Joli stresses that the work that HF is doing is really how to effectively create a system that can meet the needs of individuals. This is their overall goal.

Photo Credit: Stephanie Drenka

“It’s been an exciting journey. I am blessed beyond measure to even be able to stand in this space. My birth father experienced homelessness for about 15 years in the city of Atlanta before he passed away so it’s not just about the mission of the organization. It touches me personally. I really have a heart for ensuring that our system works effectively,” she said.

Since Robinson stepped into her role over a year ago, she has implemented some big changes.

“I’ve had a strong focus on culture. The opportunity to be President and CEO is super dope because you can help set culture. You can help set the policies. I can implement strategies, techniques, and policies that really center racial equity,” she said.

“This is legacy-building work. We are working on things that we may not even see the full scope of in this lifetime, but we know that we are making a mark and leaving a legacy so that we can make it better than we inherited it and we can leave it better than we found it.”

Robinson stresses that the work that HF is doing is really how to effectively create a system that can meet the needs of individuals. This is their overall goal.

Thank you Joli for all that you do at Housing Forward and our community.