The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) recently released their 2018 Annual Homeless Assessment Report (AHAR) that’s sent to Congress. The most striking thing about the report is how much it seems to take credit for the Obama (and Bush) eras while downplaying the Trump administration’s failings. While HUD crows about homelessness decreasing by 13.2 percent since 2010, overall homelessness has increased in both 2017 and 2018, as has the number of unsheltered homeless (living on the street versus in a shelter). I’d hazard a guess that the concerted decrease in sheltered homeless beginning in 2016 is the result of Obama-era facilities coming online to serve the homeless.

HUD blames the increases on various natural disasters, but fails to explain the 2015-2016 drop in sheltered homeless. Long-term homeless increased by 2.2 percent in the past year, but again are down 16.4 percent compared to 2010.

Just this morning it was reported that after leaving food assistance programs alone in the recently passed farm bill, Trump is using regulatory rulemaking to attempt to trim food stamp programs. This is happening because the House and Senate opposed the measures. But not all opposed, House Agriculture Chairman Michael Conaway, R-Texas, was the primary champion for tighter SNAP work requirements and praised the proposed rule change.

Under Trump’s rules, the work requirement would be increased from 18-49 to 18-59 years old. States would lose the ability to bank unused funds for future use and waive work requirements in cities or counties during times of high unemployment (which Trump wants to set at seven percent).

Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue said, “We would much rather have Congress enact these important reforms for the SNAP program. However, these regulatory changes by the USDA will save hardworking taxpayers $15 billion over 10 years and give President Trump comfort enough to support a farm bill he might otherwise have opposed.” That farm bill seeks to mitigate farmers’ hardships created by Trump’s various trade wars.

Clearly this will have a negative impact on national and Texas homelessness in the coming years.

On the upside, veteran homelessness has declined under Trump due to HUD and VA programs designed to target the group. Overall, veteran homelessness was down 5.4 percent since January 2017 with the female number down 10 percent.  However, since 2010, veteran homelessness is down 49 percent.

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Homelessness has increased in Dallas by 9 percent, unsheltered homelessness by 23 percent almost a quarter since 2017. There are many reasons why, too many to go into right now. You may recall when the tent city was shut down, a plan was enacted to move the homeless to Hensley Field, the site of a former naval air station near Grand Prairie. The plan hinged on $50 million in private donations to build tiny homes and other living facilities on the 350-acre lot, including lots of support services. But the media balked at the feel of “rounding up” people and concentrating services. Now the services are concentrated downtown.

But is shuffling people all over town, taking temporary shelter in recreational centers where children play and swim, a sensible approach?

I spoke to Linda Garner, who was appointed to the Citizen’s Homeless Commission by Adam Medrano, and who lives in the Cedars, ground zero for the homeless in Dallas. Linda understands the Four Track program and tells me that the solution to homelessness is to remove the concentration from downtown, where most services happen to be. I get it. It’s like sending your kid to boarding school to get him away from the riff-raff. She believes in the concept of small “boutique” shelters that exist across Dallas, but off the radar because they are in low-density areas. For example, one she discovered off Denton Drive.

“I think the temporary aspect is expensive, but we truly need to decentralize homeless services from downtown,” Linda told me. (more…)

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Editor’s note: This story has been updated to reflect new developments.

When Andrew Foster bought his 15th floor penthouse at 511 N. Akard, he began the 7 month process of completely gutting the former commercial space. The building, which is the one of the few affordable apartment buildings in downtown Dallas,  includes permanent supportive housing for the formerly homeless. It was built in 1958 to house the headquarters of the Relief and Annuity Board of the Baptist General Convention, but today it has been transformed into something much more vibrant and useful.

“I love the space and I love downtown,” Foster said. “Downtown is a really exciting place to be right now.”

Though much of the original lobby remains — as does the brick, marble, and metal exterior — 511 N. Akard now has an entirely different purpose as CityWalk@Akard. Purchased and transformed by Larry James’ CitySquare, the building has become an experiment: Can a residential high-rise bring self-sufficiency and pride to the formerly homeless and still work as a mixed-income development?

Foster says yes, it can work, and it does.

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