Four candidates for mayor of Dallas agree on at least this much: Homelessness is a growing problem that the city must find a way to solve.
At a public forum Thursday, candidates shared their ideas for meeting that goal, ranging from partnering with the agencies and nonprofits that are already doing that work, to wholesale change of the global economic order.
Dallas City Council member Scott Griggs, Dallas school board member Miguel Solis, nonprofit CEO Lynn McBee and Alyson Kennedy, a member of the Socialist Workers Party, spoke Thursday morning at the Metro Dallas Homeless Alliance's Mayoral Forum on Homelessness.
During the forum, Griggs discussed the need to stop funding boondoggles like the $115 million Margaret McDermott Bridge and image-enhancing projects like the whitewater rapids on the Trinity River. If the city stopped getting mired in projects that look good on a postcard but don't improve the quality of life in Dallas, it would have more money to spend on housing and other services for the city's homeless population.
"The budget is a reflection of our values," Griggs said.
Griggs said the city should use its comprehensive housing policy to overcome NIMBY resistance to housing the city's homeless. The city has had some success with a strategy called inclusionary zoning, which requires housing developers to set aside some units for tenants with housing choice vouchers, formerly known as Section 8, but the city still needs to work with more landlords to persuade them to accept those vouchers, he said.
Solis said the city needs to do a better job of building an "infrastructure of opportunity" — a system of services like public education, housing, transportation, public safety and workforce development that allows residents to live safe, decent lives and helps poor people climb out of poverty.
Solis said he'd like to see the city create an Office of Re-entry to help people coming out of state prisons and jails find jobs and housing and connect them with other services. A huge number of people coming out of the criminal justice system can't find jobs because employers are unwilling to hire people with criminal records, he said. By working with those people soon after their release, the city could keep them from falling into homelessness in the first place, Solis said.
McBee said Dallas needs more permanent supportive housing for people moving out of homelessness. Permanent supportive housing is a strategy that experts say is effective for working with the most vulnerable homeless people. It involves pairing affordable housing with health and mental health care and other social services.
As an example, McBee pointed to New Hope Housing, a successful program in Houston that came about under the leadership of then-Mayor Annise Parker. McBee said the project was so successful because Parker brought together all the advocacy agencies and funders in the city and got them to work together on a single project. McBee said she would work to build similar relationships in Dallas if she were elected.
Griggs, McBee and Solis all agreed the city needs to build on partnerships it already has in place with nonprofits like City Square and The Bridge, as well as other agencies like DART and Parkland Hospital.
But Kennedy said she doubted any of the solutions offered by her opponents would help the city make meaningful progress toward solving homelessness. Homelessness is the product of inequities built into the capitalist system, she said. Until workers worldwide see more of the benefits of their own labor in the form of higher wages and wrest political power from the governing class, no housing policies enacted on the local level will make much difference, she said.
"These are fundamental problems, and it's going to take a fundamental change, and that's what my campaign is all about," Kennedy said.
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