Metro Dallas Homeless Alliance, The Bridge Explain Their Separation to City Council

On Friday, in a briefing sent to the city council, the Metro Dallas Homeless Alliance and the downtown homeless shelter The Bridge announced they would be separating their leadership, something that became effective Saturday. The Bridge is now its own separate non-profit and will be a member of the MDHA, not one of its a satellite programs. John Castle, now the chairman of The Bridge, assured the city council's Housing Committee moments ago committee that it's not an angry breakup by any means.

"At some point in time, as The Bridge matured and got its feet on the ground, it would become its own organization," he said. "That had always been in the planning. We have two organizations here with separate missions. We began thinking more seriously: Is now the time to separate these two organizations?"

Castle said the two nonprofits felt increasingly "inhibited" by each other. "MDHA has 60 or 70 service providers," he said. "The Bridge felt somewhat constrained about competing with service providers. ... Being a separate organization, we don't have that kind of inhibition." The Bridge, he said, will also increase its efforts to find "other sources of earned income," including looking at receiving funding from the federal government, something they don't currently do.

MDHA, he said, had also been "has been somewhat overwhelmed" by The Bridge, which "takes up a good bit" of its time.

"It was perceived as the most-favored child by some of the [other MDHA] members. That perception will go away when the two become separate," he explained. The new goal, he said, is for MDHA to be able to come a more policy and data-driven organization with "a more systemic view of the issues of homelessness," without being "inhibited by the large operation of The Bridge."

"I think MDHA will serve a tremendous purpose," he assured the committee.

Mike Faenza, now CEO of MDHA, concurred. He praised the city council for the time and energy they've invested into combating homelessness, saying, "You've been very patient with the nonprofit organization MDHA as we've learned, and developed The Bridge and other programs. I think we have a lot to be proud of." He added that MDHA's staff and board are "very proud" of their work helping to "incubate" The Bridge.

"I've been working in this field close to 40 years, and I have some ownership and investment in The Bridge," he said. "But I've But I've never seen an operation in health and human services go the extra mile like The Bridge does. ... [The Bridge President and CEO] Jay Dunn and his team, there's really something extraordinary that happens there."

In the future, Faenza said, MDHA will be more focused advocacy, like encouraging city and county leadership, as well as district judges, to support more permanent supportive housing developments for the chronically homeless. They also want city and county officials to work on affordable housing issues, he said: "Without a serious movement on affordable housing, we allow a major factor in homelessness to be unaddressed."

At the same time, he said, "we want the city to be much more cognizant and invested in what public mental health system does, for example, because it has a great impact on your leadership and your investments in housing. ... Most people in permanent supportive housing are clients of that public mental health system."

Jay Dunn said the shelter will continue focusing on providing emergency care and transitional housing services. "There are about 1,500 adults experiencing homeless in Dallas's emergency shelters every day and night," he said. "We serve 1,200 of that group regularly. That being said, we've got a couple hundred we'd like to better connect to." Part of the issue, he explained, is that "other emergency shelters close during the day. Without us, [the homeless] don't have a place to go. That's not quite as well understood as it should be."

Indirectly addressing criticism from groups such as the Farmers Market stakeholders, who aren't fans of the shelter, Dunn added that The Bridge has "helped reduce crime downtown. We were a vacant lot prior to our operation, and crime has gone down. Healthcare costs are also 24 percent less for our graduates."

But they need to partner better with entities such as the Parks Department, he said, to address things like the hubbub this summer over homeless people in Main Street Garden. "We want to transition from a break-fix conversation into something more long-term," he said. "We want to get ahead of those things as best we can."

"We want to make sure we're increasingly becoming a well-understood resource for downtown," Dunn told the committee, "Not just an inflow reception area, but an organization that's proactive in partnering with other organizations to improve downtown Dallas."

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