Dallas’ Homeless Problem is Solvable – if We Ever Decide to Solve it…

I don’t get the tepid reaction to the report of Dallas’ Homeless Commission last week.

Maybe it’s because I wasn’t there (I understand that we weren’t able to provide the full report, including whatever itemized numbers we provided for our solutions), so I was unable to gauge the attitude of the council to the report.  And perhaps because we (or somebody) had said we were coming back with a final report in November. I know that in more than a couple of meeting, I argued for a full on report regarding the solutions – in other words not only provide the report and the numbers  –  but a full estimate an estimate as possible on how much it would cost to fully address homelessness – because I really believe, we may never have an opportunity like this again.

Nonetheless, nothing about the final report in November is going to change: we will still need, about 2100 units of housing, most of which will actually be in apartment complexes considered ‘market rate’. We will need to greatly expand the number of permanent supportive housing (PSH) programs, which should be standardized and coordinated relative to the type of services they deliver. But the council needs to realize that the standardization cannot be addressed through ‘minimal standards’. They need to be committed to radical interventions, which include opportunities that address the physical, mental and social needs of the people in those programs. And the fiscal infrastructure that addresses the housing needs, including programmatic needs, must be a creative packaging of local and federal funding. But that funding will take more than the proposed $3-$9 million. We need to be thinking of addressing at least 25 percent to half of those impacted over the next year to year and a half. And the city, needs to seek to address this by investing in more than housing. Frankly, the problem is as bad as it is now, not only because of the Great Recession, but because the city of Dallas, through successive city councils has done just enough to make sure that all but the poorer sections of our city never saw how bad the problem was.

So time is out for trying to address this issue on the cheap. We need a substantial financial commitment to a population that has never had one from the city before.

Where does the money come from?

  • Delay plans for the deck park, near the zoo for a year, commit some of that funding to solve the homeless problem
  • Explore even more creative uses Tax Increment Financing (TIF) funds which should be allocated for affordable housing
  • Reallocate the  uses of all of or portions of some of our fees and taxes, like room rental taxes to address homelessness
  • Use a portion of the upcoming bond package to address homelessness, either for gap funding for developers, or to provide case management services

In other words – TRY SOMETHING! Don’t simply be skeptical and dismiss the prospect of dealing with the problem substantively, out of hand.

When we give our final report in November, we will be approaching the colder months of the year, and the holiday season, when people are feeling more ‘charitable’. There will be plenty of feel good stories about how we are ‘helping’ the homeless. Most of those efforts will be laudable expressions of individual generosity. Some will be groups providing seasonal acts of good will. But I have seldom had anyone call me in spring, during our rainy season, or the dog days of summer, or in September when thoughts turn to the start of school and football games and ask what they can do to help the homeless.

We need entities that are committed all year-long to making sure that homeless citizens have an opportunity to live lives of self-sufficiency and productivity.

Our report says that on any given night, there are as many as 10,000 homeless people sleeping on our city streets. A  Dallas Morning News editorial yesterday, reported several cities – in Texas no less – that have creative ways of dealing with this problem. The fact is, the 10,000 people counted on as homeless in Dallas, represent less than 1 percent of our city’s total population. It’s hard for me to believe that represents an unsolvable problem.

The DMN editorial concludes, “We’re eager to hear more details on how these strategies could be implemented when the commission returns  to the City Council with a final report in November.” That’s an awful mild form of acceptance for the newspaper of record for a ‘can-do’ city. If we are going to address homelessness as the epidemic that it is, it has to be an all hands on deck effort.

I’m counting very few people and institutions, other than those of us who deal with this everyday, who seem to be all in…



Dallas’ Homeless Epidemic…

TZ1-HOMELESS COMMISSION_1470188162918_1790345_ver1.0I wasn’t at Dallas’ City Council briefing yesterday, when the Dallas Homeless Commission gave them the results of our study compiled over the summer. Believe it or not, I was in meetings, trying to build support for a new permanent supportive housing initiative! So, I was relegated to news reports.

Let’s just say, that I am unimpressed with the response of our council…

According to the Dallas Morning News, the range of responses went from calls for more ‘innovative’ responses to calls for the city to ‘own’ the problem…

“Reactions from council members were mixed. Some were critical of the commission’s first presentation, saying the group didn’t try to find new ideas to address homelessness…“If the council doesn’t get serious about this problem … we’ll have this problem perpetually,” council member Lee Kleinman said.”

Here are the facts: The city of Dallas has ignored the ‘new ideas to address homelessness’ for decades. The ideas presented ARE the new ideas to address homelessness based on best practices across the nation. And in response to Lee Kleinman…RIGHT ON! This problem DOES belong to the city of Dallas. If there was no CitySquare, no Austin Street Shelter, no Metro Dallas Homeless Alliance, Dallas homeless would still be the problem of the city of Dallas.

The response of Dallas Commission on Homelessness to its charge, was that the city initially invest, $3 million which would house about 600 homeless vets and chronically homeless adults (I DO have a problem with the ask, because its way too low – although, I’ve been assured it’s actually closer to $9 million. Dallas has at least 3800 homeless people. Any proposal that doesn’t include enough money to address the needs of at least 25% to half of them in the next 18 months isn’t realistic…but that’s just me…).

Dallas has doesn’t have a Homeless problem. Dallas has a Homeless epidemic. If we had nearly 4000 citizens, afflicted with any disease…the Zika virus, ebola, pneumonia, that’s just how it would be defined…an epidemic. That’s how we need to see it, an epidemic, one from which most of the people afflicted, will almost certainly die. They will die sicker, and younger, from diseases that are more treatable and/or curable than the rest of our more healthy population.

The difference is they are poorer than the rest of us. That makes it easier for us not to care as much. That makes them easier to ignore and to drag out arguments about what we can and should do about them, and to substitute and confuse our arguments for action. Until we all become incredibly less rich…in ways we can’t even imagine…




We All Must Respond to Homelessness

Cindy Crain is the Executive Director of Metro Dallas Homeless Alliance. By all accounts, she’s doing a tremendous job faced with challenging circumstances.

Although in some way or another, I’ve been dealing with homelessness as a pastor and as a non-profit executive, I’ve seen the problem grow worse through the years. And although, I have served with Cindy on our city’s Homelessness Commission, I am waiting to see whether or not our city council will accept and employ our recommendations.

Cindy’s wisdom, expressed in today’s Dallas Morning News, let’s us all know that everyone has to have some skin in the game, if we are going to solve this problem…not just the police. Police Chief David Brown, has lamented that police are asked to do to much. I tend to agree with him…the answer to homelessness is not citations and jail…it’s a home…

Here’s Cindy Crain’s Op-Ed piece…

Three months ago, a patrol officer called me regarding a person experiencing homelessness who was trespassing. I asked the officer to hand his cell phone to the man. I calmed him and recommended a solution, and he agreed.

Unfortunately, my staff and I were not immediately available to help. The Dallas Police Crisis Intervention Team was working on stacked calls. The two street outreach workers were knee-deep in cases involving the Interstate 45 tent city removal.

I called the officer back. I could clearly hear his frustration and agitation. He had been on this call for more than an hour, and it was hot outside.

“Ma’am, if y’all cannot get here soon, I am going to take him in.”

They say when all you have is a hammer, everything is a nail.

Police are equipped with a citation book, handcuffs, and so-called APOWW, or apprehension by a peace officer without warrant. An officer can call the crisis intervention team, but they are charged with far more than homelessness.

The day after the closure of the second major homeless encampment at I-45 and Coombs two weeks ago, I visited the site. I happened on the clean-up crew preparing to load possessions on a truck just outside the perimeter, a line difficult to discern for all the brush.

There, a homeless woman was deeply distressed and a police officer was working to understand the circumstance and necessary response.

Texting and calling, we resolved the situation together. As I resumed the walk-through, the officer asked, “Why didn’t she get housed like all the rest?”

My response was that we were only able to house a few.

The officer, “So, they were all just scattered all over?”

“Yes, sir.”

He shook his head, and I handed him my card and to call if I could be of service.

I have listened to officers lamenting the load that homelessness places on their time, patience and conscience. I recently started to listen to police band radio over the internet. I began to listen to Dallas Police 1 Central and 2 NE division locations.

Within the first 15 minutes I heard a call and recognized the address. Half an hour later, another. For days I listened and kept hearing descriptions and addresses that told me homelessness was a prominent culprit.

Nationally, Dallas has a reputation for its criminalization of homelessness. I know personally that this reputation in no way squares with the sentiment of the men and women who wear that Dallas badge.

Last week, members of the City of Dallas Homeless Commission expressed concern that the budgetary needs of Dallas Police were now in conflict with proposals to address homelessness.

I see no conflict.

In fact, the work of the Homeless Commission is a critical component to the goals to strengthen law enforcement resources. The Commission recommendations fall solidly within the learned best practices identified throughout the country.

Data improves our knowledge and accountability. Adopting the philosophy that housing ends homelessness — and the more rapidly navigated the better — will dramatically adjust the course of the homeless response system.

Aligning new street outreach with shredding entrance rules for homeless shelters will better define a clear and accessible path off the streets.

And then there is the housing. Last week at the National Alliance to End Homelessness Conference in Washington, I met with peers from Portland, Oregon, Salt Lake City, Denver, San Francisco, San Diego and Houston.

All shared the same challenge: There’s no available affordable housing, the unsheltered homeless population continues to grow, and the homeless response systems are blamed. We are all wringing out every possible last-drop solution to counter more than four decades of declining investment in affordable housing.

In Dallas, systemic solutions are now in play. We will retool existing resources. But we need the commitment and strategic, targeted investment to counter the market and societal change. We all must respond, not just the Blue.

Oh Give Me a Home Pt.1

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?