The Dallas City Council Wednesday gave unanimous approval to a big spending plan to combat homelessness, despite critical remarks by one member about the deal.
Homeless people are in greater danger of getting and spreading COVID-19 and a massive influx of COVID-19 relief money from the federal government makes the plan possible.
More than $70 million will be spent with money pooled from several cities and Dallas County to rapidly house 2,700 homeless people.
“I have never seen in my 30 years in this work so many people work together so I know a lot of thought has gone into this plan,” said Paige Flink, Chief Executive Officer of the Family Place domestic violence shelter.
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Dozens of people signed up to speak Wednesday as the Dallas City Council voted to contribute $31 million, most of it COVID-19 money.
Downtown Dallas Resident Lynn O’Neal said 21 homeless people crossed her path on the way to dinner one night recently.
“Were these people dangerous or threatening? No. But it is a terrible comment about the Downtown Dallas area that we have so many people needing help,” she said.
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Existing resources can not serve so many people.
Several homeless people spoke to the council who are staying at The Bridge homeless facility, which is operated by the city downtown.
Mark Clifford said doctors have told him he needs medical tests, which are very difficult to arrange without a home.
“If I had my own place, if I was able to be housed, these tests could be done. Recovery time would not be an issue,” Clifford said.
Jimmy Freeman said he has been at The Bridge since April.
“And I’m just waiting on being picked up in housing assistance. This will bring me more peace of mind and stability, just in being more assured in my path and my work,” Freeman said.
The funding deal was announced in June at a big Dallas City Hall press conference including representatives from all the supporting governments and agencies.
City Council Member Cara Mendelsohn criticized the selected use of the money and the June announcement, made before most city leaders had a chance to review it.
“Shows how this process was corrupted and maneuvered where it is certain to pass, because it would be too hard for city council members to say no,” Mendelsohn said.
Prior to her service on the council, Mendelsohn said she spent many years involved with the issue of homelessness.
She said the spending should have been divided to add money for emergency shelter, transitional programs, supportive housing and affordable housing programs.
“What’s hard is knowing we will be right back here with the very same groups, asking for dollars in the areas we should be investing in now,” Mendelsohn said.
Council Member Mendelsohn voted for the plan anyway and other members acknowledged some of her concerns.
Chad West said homeless people who receive rapid rehousing will still need to live somewhere affordable after that interim support and Dallas needs tens of thousands more workforce homes.
“Our work is not finished. This council along with city staff must now help launch a similar community-wide commitment to build and retain affordable housing,” West said.
Most of the council praised the opportunity to make progress.
“We’ve talked several times about once in a lifetime. That’s exactly what this is. I look forward to seeing the results and supporting along the way,” Councilman Adam Bazaldua said.
Federal COVID-19 relief money has already purchased three Dallas hotels for quarantine space, which will transition to homeless housing as COVID-19 declines.
Hundreds of additional vouchers for apartments were included in Wednesday’s approval for immediate housing help.
Unspent homeless housing money from a recent Dallas bond referendum is also used in the plan.
The city council also approved programs Wednesday to support mental health and substance abuse, which contribute to homelessness.