Pop up homeless shelters may soon be coming to recreational centers all over Dallas, including North Dallas and the fringes of Preston Hollow — Fretz Park, Campbell Green, Timberglen, Walnut Hill Recreation Center, Churchill Recreation Center — if a current proposal from the newly created Office for Homeless Solutions to house Dallas’ homeless is approved by the Dallas City Council.
Apparently downtown Dallas residents who live with problems created by Dallas’ growing homeless population have encouraged the OHS to “spread them around Dallas.”
And it’s not just that housing the homeless in city-owned recreation centers around the city is a terrible idea, the OHS’s plans are not exactly complete or well-thought out for the homeless or for neighborhoods, schools. It’s also not financially responsible, and downright crazy when it comes to transportation. Some say it almost sounds as if the OHS seems to be pushing the plan fast, before too many questions are asked.
There is a time limit at each pop up shelter, sort of. Leaders of the OHS are proposing to house homeless for at least 90 days at a time, on a sort of rotation plan.
How to explain: OHS wants four pop up locations – one in the north, one in the east, one in the west, and one in the south, where homeless can stay at least 90 days, then be switched to a different pop-up in the same quadrant (north, south, east or west) so only four centers would be make-shift shelters at a time.
Each location will house it’s group at least 90 days. In extreme weather – hot or cold — the city may open up to 10 pop up centers at a time to accommodate the need.
Experts say city code to allow for this use may have to change, meaning any city-owned property could become a pop up homeless shelter, at any time. And not just city-owned properties: a retail space or church could potentially become a homeless shelter, too, without special zoning.
It also sounds like a logistical nightmare, since each person must be transported to first an intake center, then transported to whatever recreation center, or a homeless shelter. But if the person wants to leave in the middle of the night, the city will have to provide transportation, and then every morning they will have to be transported to the day shelter (if they want to go), then transported back to the pop up shelter at night.
Who would be doing all this driving? Uber has been proposed; not exactly cost-effective. And who is paying? Funding for some of this will be new dollars in the city budget.
North Dallas community leader Cara Mendelsohn, Executive Director, Rebuilding Together North Texas, is vice-chair of the Citizen’s Homelessness Commission and has misgivings about this plan’s ability to serve people experiencing homelessness and its potential for wasting city dollars and bond money.
“There are so many important aspects of Track 2, 3 and 4 that have not been defined or clarified, it would be irresponsible to approve without more detailed information. The Commission has been asking questions for months and we still don’t have answers to basic questions on how these tracks would operate. I think we need more planning and transparency than a few bullet points.” says Cara.
“The Dallas Area Partnership on Homelessness has also been involved, but I don’t think they have approved it,” she adds.
Basically, the homeless plan is divided into a “4 track” system. Cara agrees Track 1, which would fully use the capacity at existing shelters on a pay-to-stay basis, is a good idea and will help get up to 150 people off the street immediately. But she is concerned that OHS has no plans to check Track 2 participants — those going to recreation centers for sheltering– for weapons, drugs, convictions of violent offenses, or infectious diseases such as hepatitis A.
“The Track 2 plan is unworkable and unnecessarily expensive,” says Cara. “Track 4, a commitment of $20 million, barely has bullet points to describe the plan. In fact, there is no plan!”
This program needs to be delayed, says Mendelsohn, until there are answers, major modifications, or an actual plan is made.
“Shouldn’t taxpayers expect at least as many details on a $23 million comprehensive homeless plan as one would see on a United Way grant application?” she asks.
What to do?
“Contact your councilperson,” says Cara. “If your city council member doesn’t hear from you, they won’t know there is a problem.”
District 12 is Sandy.Greyson@dallascityhall.com and
District 11 is Lee.Kleinman@dallascityhall.com.
District 13 is Jennifer.Gates@dallascityhall.com
And tune in to CandysDirt.com as we keep on top of this developing story.