At United Way of Tarrant County, we believe knowledge is power, but we also believe that knowledge without action is worthless. As part of our strategic plan, which reexamined our role in Tarrant County, we embarked on a fact-finding mission to determine what issues the community believed to be the most pressing. Results of our efforts are presented in the United Way of Tarrant County’s 2018-2019 Community Assessment. And with this knowledge, backed by research, we have a clear directive for how the community wants us to act and where they want us to invest resources.
When we started, we anticipated that the top identified issues were not going to come as a surprise to many in the community. The top identified issues are housing and homelessness; health, mental health and wellness; transportation; education, early childhood and youth; basic needs, emergency assistance and financial stability.
These issues are often complicated and intertwined, compounding their negative effects on quality of life. For example, the lack of affordable housing leads many people to live paycheck to paycheck, jeopardizing their financial stability. The absence of affordable childcare further impedes financial stability for families, especially families headed by single mothers. And finding better employment opportunities to increase financial stability may not be possible because of the cost of owning a reliable car or because of a lack of access to public transportation.
These obstacles are clearly demonstrated in the research. For instance, we found that in Tarrant County, more than 1 in 5 (23 percent) households earn less than $35,000 per year, making housing unaffordable for over 100,000 families. We also found that the average monthly cost of childcare for one child in Tarrant County ranges from about $675 to $850, and Tarrant County ranks the worst in the state of Texas in a ratio of residents to primary care providers, dentists and mental health providers among counties with 1 million or more people. Lastly, the lack of transportation is one of the most significant barriers to accessing reliable and affordable healthcare.
The Community Assessment also showed a need for better communication, collaboration and coordination among social service organizations, government entities and the private sector.
We believe it is our role to convene resources and facilitate cooperation. We take this community directive seriously and are committed to continuing our role. While the solutions may be complex, United Way of Tarrant County will not back down from igniting real change in our community.
This data emphasizes the importance of addressing these issues through Systems Change, which was introduced in the United Way Strategic Plan in March 2018. Systems Change is how this United Way will manage the allocation of resources not just to manage social issues, but to solve them for entire populations. Central to our beliefs, we know it is time to measure our results not by the number of people we’ve helped, but by the number of people who no longer need help.
The 2018-2019 Community Assessment was executed by the University of North Texas Health Science Center in partnership with United Way of Tarrant County, and was made possible by a grant from the Sid Richardson Foundation. Data collected and analyzed for the Community Assessment is available to the public. The 2018-2019 Community Assessment, as well as all technical data, can be found at www.unitedwaytarrant.org/communityassessment.
TD Smyers is president and CEO of United Way of Tarrant County.
Originally published in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram Thursday, Feb. 14, 2019