By Cynthia Weatherall
I attended Wednesday’s City Council meeting when the council was briefed on proposed homeless strategies by Monica Hardman, the managing director of the city’s Office of Homeless Solutions. This was the fiery meeting where the “Track 2” proposal to transport the homeless across the city stirred citizens to action as few topics can do — unless it comes to protecting your home. Thankfully, the proposed strategy, which would have established temporary “roving” shelters for homeless people at recreation centers, was roundly dismissed, not only by most city council members, but by the directors of current shelters.
That was a relief. But I attended the briefing and the Q and A, and I’m concerned by what hasn’t been widely reported about various OTHER proposals.
The focus of heated discussion about Track 2 was Option 2: the use of recreation centers and other city facilities as temporary homeless housing. However, Track 2 also includes a proposal to use a combination of city-owned and private facilities and land (Option 1) for homeless housing. The real surprise to me is Option 3, which would allow overnight sleeping in designated private/public parking lots. According to city staff, this proposal was recommended by the Citizen Homeless Commission (CHC) for consideration “later”.
The CHC is a volunteer advisory body to the city manager and city council. I’m guessing this idea would meet the same fate as Option 2, but it’s worth watching.
Furthermore, the city would plan to evaluate metrics of programs biennially. That’s right: every TWO years. (I called the Office of Homeless Solutions to verify, since I know it’s easy to confuse biennial and biannual: biennial.) If you’ve ever applied for grants, you know you’d better be prepared for ANNUAL evaluations of progress. And, speaking of metrics, I noticed that neighborhood impacts are not included in the evaluations.
No matter what tactics the city uses to address the homeless issue, the effects on neighborhoods cannot be ignored.
Public outreach results were presented in pie charts (see slides #27-30 in the link below), but no information about the number of survey participants was provided, until Council Member Jennifer Gates asked specifically. There were 400 respondents to the survey, and the data presented indicated strong support for the proposed strategies. And, although one graphic indicates a total 95 percent positive reaction to using either private or city facilities for the temporary shelters (slide 29), staff stated that there was wide GENERAL support, but the idea of using recreation centers specifically met with “much resistance”.
We should be concerned that this information was not part of the main briefing, but instead was revealed during the Q and A.
It does appear that City Council will have the opportunity to vote on portions of the strategy at their meeting August 22. Track 1, which redirects some existing budgeted dollars, will increase shelter capacity at The Bridge and Dallas Life by a total of 150 beds. Discussion yesterday indicates wide support for this. Track 3, which includes incentives to landlords, will almost certainly be up for a vote as well. Council members requested more in-depth information regarding Track 4 (implementing the $20 million bond money for developing new housing for homeless), so we’ll see if that makes it to the voting agenda.
As someone who hasn’t attended a council meeting in years (my mistake!), I will say that I was very pleased that our council members want to tackle the homeless issue, but they are insisting on evidence-based proposals, and they are willing to ask tough questions of the staff. Good for them!
Here’s the link to the complete Power Point presentation:
Access the August 1 full meeting (including an interesting briefing “Resilient Dallas Strategy and Equity Indicators”) here.
Cindy Weatherall has lived in Dallas for more than 30 thirty years. Armed with a degree in pharmacy from UT Austin, she’s worked in a variety of fields from medicine to nonprofit leadership. A real estate addict like the rest of us, she believes citizens deserve transparency from those who develop and implement public housing policy. Cindy lives in North Dallas with her husband Paul.