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…