Dallas’ bold $70 million plan to house 2,600 homeless in North Texas

Could this be the game changer we need?

North Texas has a plethora of social agencies and governments committed to reducing homelessness — nearly 100 that intersect some aspect of this difficult social problem. But while desire and a willing cadre of organizations are an asset, reducing homelessness also requires a firm plan, cooperation and resources.

Yesterday, Dallas put an ambitious plan on the table. The Metro Dallas Homeless Alliance, the lead agency in North Texas’ efforts to reduce homelessness, joined with Dallas County, the city of Dallas, Mesquite, the Homeless Collaborative and the Dallas Housing Authority in a $70 million commitment to house over 2,600 individuals by October 2023.

This collaboration, which MDHA chairman Peter Brodsky describes as “a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to have significant resources attached to this problem,” is precisely what our community needs.

For starters, this effort has money, a visionary strategy to house the homeless and buy-in from groups that can make it happen. The plan also represents a major pivot from emergency crisis responses to a comprehensive effort to get people into stable housing with services available to address the issues that caused them to be on the streets.

Here’s the game plan. Dallas County and the city of Dallas will contribute $25 million each from federal pandemic relief funds. DHA, Dallas County and Mesquite will add Section 8 housing vouchers valued at $10 million and MDHA will seek private, philanthropic donors to raise another $10 million.

About 200 housing vouchers will be allocated for survivors of domestic violence and homeless families, and another 455 will be used to get the chronically homeless into permanent supportive housing. In addition, the plan also calls for an additional 2,000 homeless individuals to receive housing with their rent paid for 12 months as part of a rapid rehousing strategy. Case managers would help these homeless individuals receive health, employment, substance dependency and other services to stabilize their lives. “Without adequate housing we cannot end homelessness,” said Brodsky.

Getting people off of the streets and on a path to self-sufficiency is the right long-term strategy. Nationally, there is ample evidence that rapid re-housing gets people off the streets, out of shelters and into situations that offer hope, stability, safety and services. Most of all, those who follow this pattern tend to develop the vital life skills that will keep them from backsliding.

As with every idea, effective execution is critical to success. Under state law, apartment owners in Texas don’t have to accept Section 8 housing vouchers. The coalition promises to work with apartment associations for ways to incentivize or otherwise encourage landlords to accept vouchers. Private dollars could make a difference by providing sweeteners such as bonuses and apartment holding fees to create a viable return for landlords. The impact would be to increase the number of units available to voucher holders.

The status quo — upwards of 4,570 homeless people on any given evening in Dallas and Collin counties — is unacceptable in a region with a big heart and substantial resources. As a region, this community ought to be able to eliminate tent cities and other manifestations of chronic homelessness that pose health and safety threats to those living on the streets, as well as to the overall community. Neighborhoods decay and businesses fail when areas are perceived as unsafe or unsightly. And aside from the humanitarian imperative to help those who want help, providing shelter opportunities is more cost effective than the depressing cycle of emergency rooms, encampments, jails and temporary shelters.

The collaborations that have brought our community to this strategy must be sustained. Homelessness is not a one-and-done issue, and these private-public alliances shouldn’t be either. Our community’s fight against homelessness must expand. It must refine data collection to better understand what drives homelessness, assess progress transparently and, if necessary, recalibrate the strategy. And it must continue to work on identifying and correcting systemic patterns, such as access to jobs and economic mobility, that negatively impact the ability of those under pressure to stay out of homelessness.

The opportunity for change is now, and this plan is a promising vision for alleviating homelessness in this community.

This editorial was written by the editorial board and serves as the voice and opinion of The Dallas Morning News.

Copyright © 2021 The Dallas Morning News. All rights reserved.

To view the original article by Dallas Morning News Editorial, please visit https://www.dallasnews.com/opinion/editorials/2021/06/24/dallas-bold-70-million-plan-to-house-2600-homeless-in-north-texas/

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