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Dallas Homeless Czar Keeps It Simple: "The Answer to Homelessness Is a Home."

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As the city digs out from under a record snowfall -- and with the forecast calling for below-freezing temps and a freezing fog advisory -- it's hard not to think about the city's homeless population as Dallas attempts to move ahead with its plans to establish 700 units of permanent housing for the city's chronically homeless. Yet among the cancellations resulting from yesterday's snowstorm was the final meeting of the Community Task Force on Housing for Homeless.

Had the meeting gone down as planned on Thursday afternoon, the task force would have discussed its final recommendations with council members Steve Salazar and Carolyn Davis (chair and co-chair of the task force, respectively) and Dallas homeless czar Mike Rawlings. While there's no word yet on a new date for the final meeting, Rawlings tells Unfair Park today that he's already seen the recommendations, which revolve around one of the city's biggest challenges in reaching its goal of ending chronic homelessness by 2014.

"We've been working on it for about five years, and we're about halfway there," Rawlings says. "We've got four goals, four strategies. One is to get organized, and that's a complicated task in itself. Second is the homeless assistance center: building The Bridge and making that run efficiently. Third is mental illness and trying to change our mental health procedures in North Texas. And fourth is permanent supportive housing."

The last one has proved tricky, ruffling the feathers of more than a few folks in certain neighborhoods. Rawlings, chair of Metro Dallas Homeless Alliance, hesitates before attributing most of these neighborhood fears and concerns about permanent housing to "myths."

Mayor Tom Leppert appointed the task force last fall with, according to Rawlings, "the purpose of getting developers, neighborhoods, everybody together to create a protocol for how we will implement and build this housing." Not charged necessarily with choosing locations or obtaining financing, Rawlings says, the task force is more about developing protocol. So, what's this protocol that the task force is recommending?

"I don't want to go into too much detail," Rawlings says, adding that he didn't want to "take everybody's bullets out of their guns" before the meeting. Especially before Salazar and Davis have "approved, endorsed and probably edited" the recommendations (though, presumably not in that order).

What he can say about the recommendations is that things will go easier once they're adopted; there will be a "big education process" involved; and he stressed that the city has to do its part to develop and fund the effort.

In the end, Rawlings says it's actually not all that complicated. "The answer to homelessness is a home. I mean, it's really pretty simple in some ways, the trick is to get them."

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