One of Dallas' oddest but still really consequential fights limped through another round at City Hall on Tuesday, as city staff, council members and advocates for the homeless pushed, pulled and tugged at a proposed ordinance that will finally codify just who, and who isn't, allowed to provide shelter for the homeless when the weather turns cold.
In May, staff told the council that they'd be back in four to six months with proposed changes to city code that would allow groups that want to provide shelter to those who need it during severe weather to do so. It took a little longer than six months, but on Tuesday, Monica Hardman, director of the city of Dallas' Office of Homeless Solutions, led council members through what her office has come up with.
Under the new plan, groups wanting to host a temporary shelter would have to apply for and get a city permit. In order to be eligible for the permit, applicants would have to guarantee a minimum amount of space per person staying at the shelter, agree to provide security and meet food safety and disability regulations, in addition to other safety requirements.
Wayne Walker, the executive director of OurCalling, the group about which an initial code complaint was made for operating an illegal shelter in 2018, praised the city for working on a plan but said groups that will have to go through the process haven't been included in its development.
"None of the shelter providers have provided any input," Walker said. "We haven't been asked, we haven't been met with. No one's visited our site during inclement weather."
Advocates and some members of the council worry that the process for getting a permit would prove so onerous that groups would simply skip out.
"I think we're on the wrong path. No. 1, the city has a responsibility, a public safety responsibility, to make sure people don't die in inclement weather, and it's our responsibility to have a shelter when we have severe weather," said council member Cara Mendelsohn. "The faith community has a moral imperative to open their doors and, I'm just going to say this, you've put together a plan that not a single church is going to apply for. It is so outrageous. It's the kind of thing that people curse the city for."
Any church that wants to host a temporary shelter could simply claim they were hosting a lock-in for their members, Mendelsohn said.
Council member Lee Kleinman said he shared Mendelsohn's concerns about over-regulation but said the rules might keep inexperienced shelter operators from making a mistake.
"We had a bit of a bike apocalypse for a while, but it all kind of worked itself out," Kleinman said. "I do share the concerns about the heaviness of it, but you also have to cast a wide net."
City staff will brief the full City Council this spring on the plan, which won committee recommendation despite the concerns on Tuesday. Should more cold weather strike this winter, the city will host a temporary shelter, as it did last year at the convention center.
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