Dallas City Council Creates New Homeless Commission

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A set of compromises and a City Council vote marked the birth of Dallas' homeless commission on Wednesday, the latest effort to address the estimated 1,100 homeless people who live in the city.

Initially, the city and the county will each contribute $50,000 toward the board's operating costs for the board's initial term, which runs through Sept. 30, 2018. As a point of comparison, the city contributed $4.2 million to The Bridge homeless shelter in 2015.

The board, which is expected to focus on housing some of the county's most persistently homeless initially, will also raise money from private donors to support its policy goals as it works to provide support and housing for the city of Dallas' homeless. It will also be allowed to apply for grants and issue bonds, as necessary and as approved by the city and county.

In February, Rawlings announced with Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins that he wanted a board of directors made up of members from the Apartment Association of Greater Dallas, Parkland Health and Hospital System, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, the North Texas Behavioral Health Authority and the Real Estate Council. That board, according to the initial plan, would've consulted with an auxiliary board with members selected by the City Council and Dallas' county commissioners.

When Rawlings brought his plan to the City Council, many council members insisted on a solution more focused on city of Dallas issues, pointing to the Park Board or City Plan Commission as a model for the type of body they wanted.

On Wednesday, the council voted to do both, approving the partnership with the county and the private stakeholders, but doing away with the idea of the auxiliary board. In addition, they'll each be appointing one member to the new, permanent, city of Dallas homeless commission.

The regional board is charged with coordinating federal, state and local plans related to homelessness in Dallas County, "develop[ing] clear policy recommendations and objective processes to measure the effectiveness of new and existing policies in ending and preventing homelessness" and coordinating existing advocacy groups and resources for Dallas' homeless population. In February, Rawlings and Jenkins said that they hoped better oversight would allow potential donors to feel more confident that their donations would be used appropriately.

Rawlings who served as Dallas' "homeless czar" for five years prior to becoming mayor, has said that a lack of clear policy recommendations hampered the effort to tackle homelessness. "A lot of people were out doing good work but it was not coordinated," he said in February. "And we didn't work together the way we should."

Some members of the council expressed discomfort with granting so much city power. Sandy Greyson in particular sought to keep things focused locally. While state law will require that a majority of members of the new county-city board are residents of Dallas County, Greyson urged the council to require that all members of the board live here.

"It just worries me that it is taking the responsibility for making those kinds of decisions away from the council and putting it into an unelected, unaccountable group," she said. The council didn't approve Greyson's plan and Greyson ended up voting against the compromise.

Unlike in the initial plan from Rawlings and Jenkins, the board is now required to consult with the city commission. The council can also get out of its relationship with the board at any time, with 60 days notice.

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