Dallas Homeless Shelter Attention Turns to Timberlawn

A plan to use Dallas recreation centers as temporary homeless shelters was loudly rejected Wednesday by Dallas City Council Members who wanted to know why past suggestions of the former Timberlawn Hospital were not pursued.

“No, no, no, no and no,” said Council Member Sandy Greyson about the recreation center plan.

Temporary homeless shelters was one of four parts to the Homeless Solutions briefing to the Dallas City Council Wednesday after years of past meetings on Homelessness by a Task Force, Commissions and the City Council.

Members supported the first portion of the plan that calls for spending $675,000 in savings from the current budget for 150 additional beds at existing shelters. An official Council vote on that spending is set for August 22. The private Dallas Life shelter would add 100 beds and The Bridge, owned by the city, would provide 50 additional beds.

The Bridge is the primary public facility in Dallas to serve the homeless now. But it has been overwhelmed by the growing homeless population of more than 3,500 in this year’s count, a 9-percent increase since 2017. The number of unsheltered homeless people was nearly 1,100 this year, 24-percent more than 2017.

The temporary shelter portion of the plan received overwhelming opposition from City Council Members who were concerned that recreation center activities would be canceled for each 90 days at a time.

“It’s not going to work,” said City Councilman Adam Medrano, a former recreation center manager.

He said providing the proper services for homeless people for 90 days at a time in multiple locations would be very difficult.

“Have one facility. I’m saying Timberlawn,” Medrano said.

Greyson said opposition to recreation centers for homeless shelter had been shared with city staff before.

“You’ve already had a lot of input saying we don’t like it. So, at what point do you kind of listen to us,” asked Greyson.

City staff members said again Wednesday that they intended to rotate 4 recreation centers at a time for shelter use but open up to 10 for homeless people in periods of inclement weather.

“And we’ll go back to the drawing board and figure out something different,” said City Manager T.C. Broadnax. ”We’ll look and explore more deeply the Timberlawn Facility.”

Councilman Lee Kleinman first suggested Timberlawn as a homeless facility to City of Dallas staff back in February when the former psychiatric hospital voluntarily closed over concerns about poor care.

Kleinman said the building on Samuell Boulevard could still be very useful for homeless shelter and services. It operated with 144 beds as a hospital but more homeless people could be sheltered there. Kleinman said it also has 20 acres of property with security fencing that could accommodate homeless people who prefer to remain outside.

“Everything’s there that you need for a facility where you can have people living there, where you can have treatments. You can have recreation space. There’s a commissary to feed people... We could bring it up to speed pretty quickly," said Kleinman. 

The third part of the homeless solution is seeking more landlords willing to accept housing vouchers. That approach is still in the works.

The fourth is building more homeless housing. Voters approved $20 million for homeless facilities in a 2017 bond referendum. That money could be directed at the Timberlawn plan.

Talk of Timberlawn as a homeless facility worries residents in the adjacent Buckner Terrace neighborhood.

“I’ve lived here for 17 years. I’ve watched our crime rate drop by a third. I have seen businesses come in. I have seen the middle class expand in our area. I have seen voter turnout in elections go way up," said Diane Birdwell. 

They're all changes she and other neighbors have worked hard for and worry could go away if Timberlawn is converted as proposed.

“My opposition to this isn’t about the homeless… My objection is the location isn’t a good fit for the clientele that they want to house there and it isn’t a good fit for the neighborhood," said Birdwell. 

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