The subject in Dallas is homelessness.
The plight of the homeless people was raised to high relief when our City Council determined that the encampment known as ‘Tent City’, with a population of nearly 200, needed to be razed and those who had resided there, be found new housing as soon as possible.
It was cast as a public safety issue. Mainly because a couple of fatal stabbings had taken place and ‘the wrong people’ complained. Tent City, had encroached upon the Cedars: a redevelopment of an area, just south of downtown, but within walking distance – if you don’t have a car – and Old City Park, as well as ‘The Bridge’, Dallas’ ‘official’ emergency shelter.
If I sound a little snarky, forgive me. First of all, Tent City is nothing new. It/they have been around as long as people have been homeless. And violence in Tent City is nothing new. It has occurred among the homeless as long as people have been homeless (just as it has occurred among people who have been adequately housed!). It’s just that this time, violence, murder, drug use, etc. took place too near a neighborhood, in which too many upwardly mobile, transient millennials and middle class whites live. Few of them knew, and I found fewer who cared when, four or five years ago, two or three homeless people died of exposure. To be honest, just like many of us, sudden concern and new found ‘compassion’ seems just a little too convenient.
Dallas now has a task force on homelessness, on which I serve, charged with making recommendations to the City Council by August, on in time their budget considerations. It is my hope, that we resist the urge to come up with quick solutions, or to consider how much our solutions may cost. That’s the Council’s job. I think our responsibility is to come up with effective, comprehensive and efficient solutions to a very difficult problem.
According to Metro Dallas Homeless Alliance’s Point in Time Survey (an annual census of the number and conditions of the homeless – a census mandated by the federal government), There are more than 600 chronically homeless individuals (those who have experienced multiple episodes of homelessness), some 50 homeless veterans, more than 1700 homeless people suffer from mental illness, struggle with addiction, suffer from HIV/AIDS and more than 550 are victims of domestic abuse. These variations of the theme of ‘homelessness’ is why it simply doesn’t work to tell them to ‘go get a job at McDonald’s’.
One of the most effective solutions is the one we employ here at CitySquare, called ‘housing first’. Essentially, the housing first model says, get a person in housing as early as possible and then begin addressing their issues. Housing first, when combined with Permanent Supportive Housing saves on average $36,000 annually with compared to having individuals on the street, or cycling through jails, hospital emergency rooms or mental hospitals.
This approach takes time, intentionality and persistence. But I’ve seen lives change. Like the woman in our program, whose husband divorced her because of her addiction. After spending some time on the street, she got clean and sober and when her ex-husband saw the change in her, he gave her a new van so that she could start her life over. Or the formerly homeless young man who actually had a graduate degree and who, while looking for a job, became a volunteer for CitySquare, helping us to change other lives.
And of course, now we have a new project, The Cottages at Hickory Crossing. A multi-layered funding, service program and a daring concept for Dallas. Fifty small homes for noted ‘frequent fliers’, those for whom homelessness has meant cycling through the expensive ‘solutions’ to housing mentioned above. They will have the intensive case management, health care, mental health care and opportunities to gain the stability necessary to lead productive lives.
I’m excited about the prospect. And I know the challenges will be many. But in CitySquare, these people will have friends who won’t go away. And our highest hope is that the city will see this as a replicable model. No matter the cos
What do you think?