Someplace Like Home

Does Miami hold the key to solving Dallas' downtown homeless problem? Maybe, but it's a very expensive key.

Miller is still reeling from her failed attempt to introduce a new, stricter panhandling ordinance. Some Dallas residents, including homeless advocate Clora Hogan, viewed the ordinance as a shortsighted attempt to run off the homeless. It was accompanied by a similarly unsuccessful attempt to crack down on the street feeders, whose outreach to the downtown homeless population has been an ongoing source of problems (see "Bum's Rush," September 30, 1999).

"They want to stop the street feeding. They don't want any panhandling. So in other words, if you're a bad boy and committed a sin and became an alcoholic, then you should go away and die," Hogan says.

For now, Hogan says she is encouraged by what appears to be a new attitude emerging from City Hall. But if the city loses its focus, she may pursue an avenue with which the city of Miami is all too familiar: a federal lawsuit. This summer, representatives of the Washington-based National Coalition for the Homeless arrived in Dallas to train Hogan and other homeless advocates how to document instances of police harassment. Despite the failed city ordinance, Hogan claims Dallas police are still "sweeping" the homeless from their downtown haunts and destroying their belongings. "I'm afraid we're making Lew Sterrett our next homeless shelter," Hogan says, referring to the county jail.

The Miami model's centerpiece is the Homeless Assistance Centers, which locals call the HACs. Unlike traditional homeless shelters, which only provide emergency housing, the HACs offer an array of social service programs designed to get the homeless off the streets for good.
Steve Satterwhite
The Miami model's centerpiece is the Homeless Assistance Centers, which locals call the HACs. Unlike traditional homeless shelters, which only provide emergency housing, the HACs offer an array of social service programs designed to get the homeless off the streets for good.
Hilda Fernandez is executive director of the Miami-Dade County Homeless Trust, which acts as an umbrella agency for the city's network of homeless social services providers.
Steve Satterwhite
Hilda Fernandez is executive director of the Miami-Dade County Homeless Trust, which acts as an umbrella agency for the city's network of homeless social services providers.

Miller says she's "amazed" that her panhandling ordinance was so poorly received. It was aimed only at street-corner panhandlers who, in Miller's mind, have nothing to do with the downtown homeless population. Nonetheless, Miller says she has put the issue on the back burner. "I want to tackle the downtown homeless problem first," Miller says, "and once people realize one has nothing to do with the other, then we'll bring back the panhandling ordinance for consideration."

Like Loza and Hogan, Miller says the city needs a coordinated plan, and whatever that plan winds up being, it will require a financial commitment from the private sector. Miller says she can get it.

"The problem historically with downtown is the city has never had a plan, so there's never been anything for the private sector to put up money for," Miller says. "I know we can get the private sector energized behind this, but City Hall has to take the first step and have a plan and, at various stages, put money up, too.

"I think we can get there."

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