Dallas Watches Seattle Vote on Homelessness Tax

Dallas works to make better use of existing resources

Some people in Dallas watched Monday as the City of Seattle passed a head tax on big employers to help pay for solutions to that city’s homelessness.

Seattle’s City Council unanimously passed a compromise to charge employers like Seattle based Amazon $275 dollars per employee.

In Seattle the most recent homeless census available was 11,643 in 2017. The 2018 Dallas homeless census was 4,140, up from 3,789 in 2017.

“We are in a pivotal position right now to not have our experience here in Dallas look like Seattle,” said David Woody, CEO of ‘The Bridge.’

The City of Dallas shelter and homeless assistance center, which celebrated a 10 year anniversary Monday, serves around 8,500 people each year.

The Dallas Street Choir performed at The Bridge as part of Monday's festivities. Michael Brown was one of the signers. He recently received a UNT-Dallas college degree in Criminal Justice after spending several years homeless on the streets of Dallas. He received 8 months of shelter at The Bridge.

“The Bridge is a good program to help you get started toward independence because it’s a process,” Brown said.

Woody said Dallas is improving at the task of getting homeless people off the street and into shelters and assistance programs.

“But getting folks through our programs is difficult because at the end there’s no housing,” Woody said.

Dallas voters in 2017 approved an additional $20 million in bond money to help provide more facilities. City leaders are still deciding exactly how to use the money. It could build more permanent supportive housing for the homeless. Another approach is getting more landlords to accept housing vouchers which private property owners are allowed to refuse in Texas.

“I think we need to talk to our state leaders about the fact that they can discriminate based on source of income,” Dallas City Council Member Mark Clayton said.

Clayton has been appointed to help deal with the issue of rising poverty in Dallas, which now affects nearly one in four people. Homelessness is a growing consequence.

At the same time, Dallas is among 20 finalists for a second Amazon headquarters. The company has said it may scale back hiring in that city because of the new head tax.

“I don’t think that would fly here,” Clayton said. “And I don’t think we need to do that.”

Seattle residents face an extremely high cost of housing which some blame on Amazon’s rapid hiring of highly paid workers in recent years. It helped spark the push to make large employers share the cost of Seattle homelessness.

Clayton said Dallas is better suited to absorb a large employer like Amazon.

“We have a Southern sector that has affordable housing and also has affordable land that can be developed and I think anytime you can get an anchor company like Amazon you’d be foolish not to at least consider it,” Clayton said.

At The Bridge, David Woody said the Dallas strategy on homelessness is to make better use of the resources now available and sell the public on the need for attention to the problem.

“What do we present to folks that is reasonable, that is palatable, but we can demonstrate to them that it would have an impact as well.” Woody said.

Michael Brown said he avoided the trap of drugs or alcohol on the street and now has a home and a job.

He hopes to become a lawyer someday with benefit of the experience he has had living homeless.

“It’s a challenge but you’ve got to create that challenge into a positive choice,” Brown said.

The Bridge has an annual budget of around $11 million dollars, $2 million of it from in kind donations. All homeless service providers in Dallas spend a combined $24 million a year on services. So the $20 million additional investment from the City of Dallas could be a substantial boost.

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