Mayor Mike Rawlings formed the Dallas Commission on Homelessness in May to research the causes of homelessness in the DFW area and to provide viable solutions. In order to gather feedback and insight from the community, the commission is holding a series of community meetings. The first community meeting was held at Dallas City Hall on June 20, and the second was held at the Harry Stone Recreation Center on June 21.
“This isn’t just about talking about the problem or bringing it to people’s attention,” Mark Clayton, the District 9 Councilmember, said. “The whole purpose of this commission is to create solutions. Everyone already knows that we have this problem; now we need a concrete solution. We need to know the short, medium, and long-term plan of how we’re going to solve this problem. Then we need to follow through on that plan. That’s why we’re having these meetings. Policy makers need feedback.”
The commission has already encouraged citizens to provide their own suggestions for addressing homelessness via social media. One solution that was discussed at length during at the second meeting was the Housing First approach, one of many solutions suggested by the National Alliance to End Homelessness. Housing First programs focus on providing sustainable housing as soon as possible.
The model that the commission is considering would involve building a number of cottages for people experiencing homelessness. According to the National Alliance, this program has been shown to work well for addressing immediate issues concerning families experiencing homelessness.
Naturally, the biggest concern regarding this approach would be the cost of building enough cottages to meet the needs of Dallas’s homeless population. However, many commission members argued that directly helping people experiencing homelessness is actually the more cost-effective approach.
“Some people say they don’t want their money going to the homeless,” Ikenna Mogbo, Housing Outpatient Operations Manager, MetroCare Services, said. “But the fact is, their money is already going to them. People who are homeless spend more time receiving medical treatment and spend more time in prison. Taking care of them costs more than just putting them in homes. Housing would cost about $12,000 a year. It costs a lot more than that to put them in jail and pay their medical expenses. Even if you don’t care about anyone besides your pocketbook, helping the homeless would make your pocketbook better.”
Audience members at both panels were encouraged to ask questions and express their own concerns. One attendee asked what the commission’s approach for dealing with the “shelter resistant” homeless population who would not take housing first as a solution.
“If someone is turning down housing in favor of sleeping outside, obviously, there are some other underlying issues that we need to address first,” CitySquare Chief Executive Officer Larry James said. “Mental illness and addiction are commonly causes of homelessness, so we need to have a plan to address the problem at its source as well as correcting the damage.”
Overall, everyone, commission members and audience members alike, agreed that the key was to treat people experiencing homelessness as people who deserve to be treated with dignity.
“Sending people to sleep at an abandoned army base with a permanent restroom set-up is not ‘dignified,’” Clayton said. “We need to house people with dignity. We need a plan for the short, medium, and long-term. Sending people to sleep at an airport is a short term solution. The long term solution is to create and spread the opportunities they need.”