James Dunn in downtown Dallas.EXPAND
James Dunn in downtown Dallas.
Erin Stone

Dallas Homeless Commission's Answer? Another Commission.

For now, it seems that the only concrete solution that will come out of Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings' Commission on Homelessness is another committee.

Acting Tuesday afternoon on the commission's final recommendations, the Dallas City Council's Housing Committee agreed that the best way to pursue the commission's recommendations is forming a new permanent entity that will function one of two ways: Scott Griggs, the chairman of the housing committee, wants a homeless board like the park board, with one member appointed by each of the city's 15 City Council members. Rawlings supports a DART-like regional agency made up of civic leaders, nonprofit groups and residents to try to carry out the commission's goals — better outreach to the homeless, more shelter space for those who need it temporarily and approximately 2,000 units of permanent supportive housing for the city's chronically homeless.

According to Dallas' 2016 homeless census, the city has about 3,900 homeless. About 10,000 people in Dallas will experience some form of homelessness in Dallas each year, according to the commission. In its most recent budget, the city allocated an additional $1 million to address homelessness, enough to fund a board or programs like the new day labor projects proposed for panhandlers, but not enough to pay for any of the commission's long-term goals, like more permanent housing.

The mayor launched the homeless commission following the cleanup of a large homeless encampment under Interstate 45 this spring. After the cleanup, however, new tent cities sprang up across the city, highlighting the need for a permanent city leadership to tackle the issue, Griggs said.

"Tent City, Tent Village, Tent City 2.0, Tent City 3.0, Tent City Buckner Terrace," Griggs said, ticking off the evolution of Dallas homeless encampments. "It keeps moving around."

Committee members struggled over which type of committee to recommend to the full council but were warned by the likes of Dallas County Criminal Justice Department Director Ron Stretcher not to let a difference in preferences on how to move forward stop progress entirely.

“My challenge to the council and everybody sitting here is, let’s not remain focused on minor differences in wording,” Stretcher said. “Let’s stay focused at the work at hand, and that’s to solve this crisis. And it is a crisis for us. It’s in the jail, it’s in the hospitals and it’s on the streets.”

Whatever solution the council settles on, be it a city or regional entity, the homeless themselves want to be included.

"We need people who are currently or have recently been homeless on that committee," said James Dunn, the homeless rights advocate who organized more than 200 of his fellow homeless to show up at an August City Council meeting.

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