Late Friday afternoon, the city of Dallas' weekly memo packet featured a little gift from new City Manager T.C. Broadnax to the Dallas City Council: a map, long awaited, of each of the city of Dallas' homeless encampments.
Members of the council, led by Oak Cliff's Scott Griggs, have pushed for the map for weeks. At Wednesday's City Council meeting Griggs said the spread of the camps as Dallas cracked down on the original tent city is one of the biggest problems faced by the city as it tries to get its homeless population off the streets.
"We've got tent cities popping up all the time. You close one down, you get Tent City 2, you get Tent Village, you get Tent City 3, you get the hospital tent city, it just goes on and on and on," Griggs said.
The map shows just what Griggs is talking about. While the city's homeless camps — marked on the map with red dots — are concentrated in central Dallas, they snake throughout the city into each of Dallas 14 council districts. There's a camp just south of the George Bush Turnpike in Sandy Greyson's Far North Dallas district and a camp as far south as you can go in Dallas, just north of Danieldale Road in Erik Wilson's District 8.
Clearly, the camps are going to be one of the biggest problems faced by the group or groups that gets tasked with tackling the recommendations of Dallas' recently concluded Commission on Homelessness. Whether a city of Dallas board is established, as Griggs and his allies on the City Council want, or the council decides to move forward with mayor's preferred plan, a regional agency that would harness the resources of Dallas County and the city of Dallas, one of the commission's biggest recommendations was building permanent supportive housing units for Dallas' persistently homeless, the people most likely to live in homeless encampments.
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Some members of the council are less than enthused with that idea. Wednesday, Wilson pointed to the tiny homes built in South Dallas and given to the homeless as being too expensive of a solution, suggesting that shipping containers be considered as temporary housing for the homeless. Rickey Callahan, who represents Pleasant Grove, said that many of the homeless living in Tent Cities don't want permanent housing. The coming homeless board, or boards, he said, should make the campsites better, rather than getting rid of them.
"The housing first idea is a cumbaya thing that, 'Hey, if we just get them into housing, then we're gonna solve the problem, 'cause after all, if they're in a house, the they're no longer homeless,'" Callahan said. "There are beds available, but people out there don't want to conform. The very nature of homelessness is non-conformity. ... We need to develop camping environments, so people, they simply want to be under the stars. Let them have a nice encampment, KOA or Thousand Trail variety with showers and all that stuff if that's what they want to do."
As the council and then the homeless board, however it ends up being formed, moves forward, Broadnax made it clear that he and city staff will step up to help solve the problem.
"All of the things that [Griggs] talked about the commission was supposed to do and bring about," he told Griggs, talking about the map and other metrics and statistics the homeless commission was charged with creating, "should be things that we as employees and city staff should be sharing with the commission to get their thoughts and guidance about and with the City Council. Those things should already be in place or should already be in the process of being developed."