It's been a decade since the city of Dallas announced the development of a 10-year plan to end chronic homelessness, a quest that, as a short stroll downtown will tell you, has fallen short of its goal. There are still plenty of people without homes.
That's not to say the program, which has focused attention and money on substance abuse counseling, permanent supportive housing, prisoner reentry programs, and the like, has been a failure. According to statistics presented to City Council's Housing Committee today, chronic homelessness has decreased by 66 percent in that time frame.
That's good news, but it's not the whole story. As the city's homeless services manager, Suanne Durham, told the council, the same period has seen a sharp increase in the number of homeless families (36 percent) and children (22 percent), which is something neither the city nor nonprofits that serve the homeless are well-equipped to deal with.
"The new population is going to require new program delivery," Durham said, listing things like family counseling, parenting skills classes and day care. "Those are things that we're not currently funded to provide."
That was a not-so-subtle plea for more funding, but Councilman Dwaine Caraway had the opposite reaction. "I think the program needs to suspended," he said. "Put on hold."
Not just the family part. The whole $6 million-per-year thing.
Caraway quickly explained that the city's homeless outreach program is fantastic and shouldn't be permanently dissolved. Rather, it should be suspended "only for a moment. ... We need to come back and regroup so we can become more effective. We have some renegaede agencies and we need to take that renegade money and put it into a basket that is being productive."
He didn't specify how much to put in which baskets. He did go on at length, in typical Caraway fashion, about how Dallas unfairly shoulders the burden of homelessness for the region. "Other cities -- Plano, Desoto, Duncanville, Allen -- they're taking advantage of us. [Their homeless] are coming here to Dallas, and they're not helping Dallas."
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Caraway also thinks Dallas is fast becoming the "homeless capital of the world." Go down to The Bridge and you'll find that a lot of the people there don't even hail from Dallas but from Virginia or Arizona or somewhere else. "They know that Dallas is a home of hope and help so they converge and convene on Dallas from everywhere."
Whether Caraway seriously believes that Dallas is some glittering homeless Mecca doesn't really matter. What matters is Caraway's solution to the problem, which is to use some of the city's funds to contract with Greyhound. As in the bus service.
"I'm for getting a ticket and, if you're from Virginia, I want you to go to Virginia. If you're from Arizona, I want you to go to Arizona. ... I want to help you if you're from Dallas, but people are coming here because we have so much stuff going that we're one of the only cities that they feel that they can reach into, and it's becoming a burden."
That may strike some as a callous approach that studiously avoids dealing with the root causes of homelessness, but Caraway doesn't care. Media outlets can quote him as much as they want. After all, he said, it's not like he has an opponent to worry about in May.