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It’s the Most Ambitious Plan to Curb Homelessness That Dallas Has Seen. Will It Work?

The Dallas City Council OK’ed a big regional plan that will spend $72 million on housing for homeless people.
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Dallas is a long way from ending—or even significantly reducing—homelessness.

  • More than 4,500 people were homeless in Dallas and Collin counties during the most recent point-in-time count, although some experts think that’s an undercount.
  • Encampments have increased by 30 percent during the pandemic, according to the Dallas Morning News. This is in part because shelters have been forced to reduce their capacity to enforce COVID-19 safety guidelines.
  • The city has received about 7,500 complaints about homeless camps since the start of 2020, a number that’s ticked up every year since 2015.

What will it take to change these numbers?

On Wednesday the Dallas City Council signed off on a new rapid rehousing initiative that looks to be among the most ambitious homelessness programs the region has ever seen.

The $72 million initiative, funded by federal stimulus dollars and some private philanthropy, aims to get 2,600 people out of homelessness by giving them homes. The program, to be led by the nonprofit Metro Dallas Homeless Alliance, will pay their rent for up to a year or longer and connect them to various social services.

It’s inspired by a similar model developed by the same consultants—Clutch, a firm based in the Houston suburb of The Woodlands—credited with helping Houston reduce its homeless population by more than 54 percent over the last decade. The premise is simple.

“The key to ending homelessness is a home,” southern Dallas Councilman Casey Thomas said.

Cara Mendelsohn, who represents Far North Dallas, was the lone dissenting voice on the City Council in a discussion that saw a good deal of back-patting and expressions of hope for the future.

Instead of an “showy” rapid rehousing program that’s “oh so Dallas” in its reliance on out-of-town consultants and private philanthropy, the money could instead be spent on shelters and other affordable housing efforts along with rapid rehousing, Mendelsohn said.

Proponents of the rapid rehousing plan have characterized it as a “once-in-a-lifetime” opportunity made possible by an influx of cash from federal COVID-19 recovery dollars. Officials have said that the vast majority of people whose rent will be temporarily paid by this program will be able to pay for their own housing after a year.

“There are a lot of people—a lot of people—living on the street right now who, if given the opportunity to get back on their feet and given access to the services they need, are very capable of self-sustaining,” Peter Brodsky, chair of the Metro Dallas Homeless Alliance, told me shortly after this plan was announced. Those are the people who will be targeted by this rapid rehousing initiative.

But Mendelsohn questioned whether this emphasis on rapid rehousing would stand up to the test of time, once the COVID-19 recovery cash is spent.

“We’ll have nothing to show for this plan in three years, five years, or in ten years,” she said.

Mendelsohn did wind up voting with the rest of her colleagues. She didn’t want to detract from the fanfare of a unanimous vote, she said.

The fanfare will soon be done. Dallas County Commissioners will vote on the same initiative next month. Then the work begins.

*A version of this story appeared this morning in the LeadingOff newsletter.

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