Dallas Homeless Commission Recommends $50-$75 Million for Solutions

Federal funding could pay most of the cost, local money suggested, too

Recommendations from a special commission to fight homelessness in Dallas include $50 to $75 million spent over the next five years to add at least 1,000 units of permanent supportive housing.

The commission was appointed by Mayor Mike Rawlings in May after a surge in homeless encampments in the city this year.

"I have asked for this commission to give us a template to follow as elected officials to try to implement and fund against," Rawlings said.

After five months of work, the commission met for the last time Tuesday before publishing a final report.

It found about 10,000 people are homeless for at least a part of each year and 3,700 homeless students are enrolled in the Dallas Independent School District. The city has about 2,000 shelter beds and most of them are full each night. There are now at least 50 homeless encampments around Dallas, according to the commission's preliminary draft report.

The recommendations include homeless prevention programs, mental health and substance abuse treatment and a substantial increase in permanent supportive housing to be available for short term occupancy by homeless people.

"They came from the nationwide experts who have a track record of success on these issues," said commission member Anne M. Johnson.

An additional 1,000 permanent supportive housing units are suggested within the next five years, 70 percent of them leased from existing landords, 30 percent new construction for the homeless. There's a goal of leasing at least 300 apartments in 2017.

Members said most of the cost could be covered by federal housing money but up to $25 million could be sought from Dallas taxpayers in a future bond referendum. The idea of a Dallas restaurant tax for the homeless was also suggested.

But the commission also found about 1,100 vouchers worth about $8 million are going unused in Dallas, at least partly because of uncooperative landlords.

"Shame on us, for not figuring out how to use that $8 million the right way," Rawlings said.

Ricky Redd, the only commission member who was previously homeless himself, said he has a friend with a voucher but landlords refuse to accept it.

"He said he's tried 40 apartments and they have turned him down," said Redd. 

The former Dawson State Jail is being studied as a possible homeless shelter. Dallas County commissioners voted Tuesday to investigate the option of acquiring the building on Commerce Street from the state of Texas.

Mayor Rawlings said another follow up from the homeless commission work should be a new management agency to better coordinate joint programs between the city of Dallas, Dallas County and social service agencies.

"How do we create this entity? How do we then make sure that you as providers, you as citizens, you as neighbors, make sure that there's a voice in that, as well?" Rawlings said.

Some homeless commission members have complained of too little focus on immediate solutions.

After the final meeting Tuesday, member Jim Burton said he will continue researching other potential buildings that could be used as shelters and alternative locations that could be used as homeless camps right now.

"We're looking to get a public encampment where we can provide restrooms, showers and safety for the people, and also help the community because there's a lot of effect on the community from the encampments," Burton said. "Not everybody wants to be inside and if we can provide a safe place for the city and for the homeless person, I think we've got a win on both sides."

The city of Dallas plans to close the largest existing camp under Interstate 30 at Haskell Avenue by Oct. 25.

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