A couple of weeks ago, we told you about a push led by Downtown Dallas Inc. to bring more cops into Dallas Central Business district to combat what DDI sees as rising nuisance crimes. The meta-culprit for many of the crimes — like panhandling, public sleeping and public urination — is vagrancy. Essentially, as defined by DDI in a white paper sent to the Dallas Police Department, vagrancy is behavior typically consistent with homelessness. DDI blames much of the vagrancy downtown on decreased nighttime capacities at The Bridge and Austin Street homeless shelters. More homeless are on the streets at night, driving quality-of-life offenses up.
The tension that's developed between central Dallas and The Bridge, specifically, was front and center of what might otherwise have been a routine update from The Bridge's CEO Jay Dunn to the Dallas City Council's Housing Committee. Dunn was there to tout the successes of The Bridge — the more than 7,000 people a year the shelter serves, the more than 2,000 job placements it's helped clients secure and the 49 percent drop in serious crime in the surrounding area since the facility opened. Instead, Dunn faced tough questioning.
Council Member Adam Medrano, whose District 2 includes The Bridge, wondered why The Bridge's board of directors has no minority members and no members who live anywhere near downtown, and he questioned the crime numbers reported by Dunn.
Medrano's colleague Philip Kingston was more blunt, saying that quality of life problems existing around The Bridge and seeping out into the rest of downtown are "destroying nascent neighborhoods."
"Downtown Dallas Inc. has done extensive study of antisocial behavior of homeless. I am receiving emails and residents are not happy," Kingston said.
Kingston advocated for more permanent supportive housing in the city, pointing to an article from Vox's Matthew Yglesias claiming that it's three times cheaper for the city to provide housing for the homeless than to continue serving them on the streets.
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"Shelters are insufficient approach for homelessness," Kingston said. "We need housing. Do we have a plan?"
Dunn's briefing followed a presentation from Cindy Crain, the president of the Metro Dallas Homeless Alliance. Crain reported the number of Dallas homeless during the MDHA's most recent point in time check — about 3,100 — and talked about efforts to increase the occupancy of the permanent supportive housing that Dallas currently has (as of July about 82 percent of permanent available beds are filled).
Medrano, usually very quiet at council and committee meetings, challenged Crain as well, pointing to the tent cities that have sprung up near Interstate 45 and I-30.
Neither Dunn nor Crain had much in the way of answers — not that they should've — for Medrano and Kingston, but the discussion highlighted the burgeoning issues faced by downtown as it's 24-hour population increases, as well as the stark reality of homelessness in Dallas. We're a long way from reaching MDHA's goal of making homelessness "rare, brief and non-recurring in Dallas."