The Connection Between Housing the Homeless and Building Roads

Last Friday I stopped by a lingering encampment of homeless people off Coombs St. and Interstate 45. My purpose was to drop off a box of trash bags and see how the party got through Tuesday's storm.Residents told me of a harrowing night clutching tent poles as their belongings became soaked and a highway billboard towering above them yielded to the winds but luckily sailed past them and landed across the highway.Ray is a 64-year-old disabled veteran who I had not seen since last summer had assumed had been housed. He lay coughing on a rummaged couch, leaning on his walker. He thought he had pneumonia.I touched his forehead and it was hot with fever. I asked if I could take him to the hospital. He said he would be fine, that he'd had this before. I texted Family Endeavors, a nonprofit that offers programs for veterans, and they had a case manager on the way.I asked Ray, "What happened last fall when we were connecting you to housing?""They told me I was not homeless enough."I hid my anger from my sick friend, but I was screaming inside about how anyone would determine eligibility from a conversation. I couldn't stay because I was on my way to the CitySquare Opportunity Center for a listening session on homelessness with HUD Secretary Dr. Ben Carson.With Ray on my mind, I tried to appeal to Dr. Carson's medical background by telling him the average age of the unsheltered homeless is 53 and that I believe the most expensive years of homelessness are upon us."Housing is infrastructure" the secretary said, more than once over the course of the hour.Infrastructure. Yes!Infrastructure organizes our shared space as a community, a city, a state, a nation and a world. It is the bones of modern civilization facilitating transportation, connectivity, communication, education, energy, safety and shelter.More importantly, infrastructure gets the big bucks.Housing as infrastructure, just like transportation.Days before the Secretary's visit I gave a very brief testimony to the Texas Senate Transportation Committee on Senate Bill 1251 introduced by Sen. Royce West (D-Dallas.) The bill proposes adding a voluntary contribution check box to vehicle registration and renewal applications for an End Homelessness Fund.Upon the reading, one senator immediately challenged how homelessness had any relation to the business of this transportation committee.I acknowledged the validity of the question. I detailed how I believed homelessness is germane to the committee and spoke of the 2016 encampment closures in Dallas, all underneath interstate bridges. I spoke to the constant work between street outreach workers and TXDOT and the impact their presence had on the work of highway maintenance and safety. And of course, panhandling.The homeless have limited-to-no access to private space. And so, we see the unsheltered along our sidewalks, roadsides, parks and benches, and underneath the great expanses of our highways.SB 1251 would in no way raise sufficient funds to address the housing crisis in Texas. And it cannot replace other homeless programs slated for elimination. But it would bring focus on the housing crisis we see every day on our travels and commutes.Within 72 hours of my testimony, a fire set by three homeless men under Interstate 85 in Atlanta would destroy a bridge and bring my arguments keenly in focus. I ache to think of the public actions we will doubtless see to remove people from the shelter of bridges.As this U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development administration listens, and as the Texas Legislature considers homeless funding, we must affirm the secretary's pronouncement that housing is infrastructure.As infrastructure, housing is worthy of more than private investment but our public action and allocation, supported by aggressive housing policies mandating ample opportunities for people of extremely low incomes.But infrastructure takes time to fund, plan and build.And housing, Dr. Carson, is health care.And we must remember that the Rays under our bridges cannot wait much longer.Cindy J. Crain is chief executive of the Metro Dallas Homeless Alliance. Email:  Continue reading...

Copyright The Dallas Morning News
Contact Us