Dallas business, property owners share concerns about camps of unhoused people – The Dallas Morning News

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Business and property owners spoke out at a public meeting at Dallas City Hall on Thursday about their concerns around unhoused people camping near roadways and in neighborhoods. They called on the city of Dallas to expand its efforts for lasting solutions to homelessness.

Members of a task force appointed by Mayor Eric Johnson told the audience of about 30 people that a key solution is hiring more outreach staff to engage with unhoused residents and connect them with housing options and services.

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The task force’s leaders — Ellen Magnis, president and CEO of Family Gateway; Peter Brodsky, board chair of Housing Forward; and Betty Culbreath, board chair for DHA, Housing Solutions for North Texas — presented recommendations on Homelessness, Organizations, Policies and Encampments, known as the HOPE report.

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When discussing temporary solutions, Brodsky said the task force agreed that sanctioned camping as a strategy was inhumane, stressing the need for shutting down unhoused camps through relationship-building with outreach workers.

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“When you concentrate that level of mental illness and that level of drug use and that level of poverty into a place with no electricity and no restrooms, it becomes the city’s responsibility,” Brodsky said. “It becomes crime-ridden. It can turn into a nightmare.”

Brodsky stressed the difference between an encampment decommissioning, where outreach workers help move people into permanent supportive housing, and a camp closure, when a city closes a site without offering housing.

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“In order to do that, we really need to increase the street outreach workforce,” Brodsky said. “When this decommissioning effort started, the bottleneck was the number of available houses. That’s not the bottleneck now. Right now, the bottleneck is street outreach.”

The Dallas City Council is set to approve a deal at its Wednesday meeting to grant Housing Forward $2.3 million for the hiring of 16 additional street outreach workers to decommission encampments and reduce unsheltered homelessness.

HOPE Task Force co-chairs (at table) listen to questions from the Housing and Homelessness Solutions committee following their recommendations on Dallas’ homeless issues during a special meeting at Dallas City Hall, January 18, 2024. Dallas City Councilman and Housing and Homelessness Solutions Committee chair Jesse Moreno called a special meeting to discuss a report penned by a Mayor Eric Johnson-appointed task force focused on homelessness. The task force’s recommendations on Homelessness, Organizations, Policies and Encampments – known as the HOPE report – were first reported to the mayor in June, but the council has yet to publicly discuss it.(Tom Fox / Staff Photographer)

Dallas City Council member Jesse Moreno, chair of the Housing and Homelessness Solutions committee, called the meeting Thursday to hear thoughts from the community on the city’s strategies.

“Homelessness is a humanitarian and health and safety concern that we must address,” Moreno said. “Residents and sheltered individuals alike suffer when our unsheltered population suffers. Too often constituents see us talk about the solutions and the policy without action.”

Unsheltered homelessness in Dallas spiked between 2014 and 2020, rising from 242 to 1,619, with an average annual growth of 37.3%, significantly higher than the U.S. average of 4.3%, according to Housing Forward data.

However, since 2020, Dallas’ unsheltered population has declined by an average of 9.9% annually. The city saw a 14% decline in 2023, with a U.S. average of 4.3% growth.

HOPE Task Force co-chairs Peter Brodsky (left) and Ellen Magnis present their recommendations on Dallas’ homeless issues during a special meeting at Dallas City Hall, January 18, 2024. Dallas City Councilman and Housing and Homelessness Solutions committee chair Jesse Moreno called a special meeting to discuss a report penned by a Mayor Eric Johnson-appointed task force focused on homelessness. The task force’s recommendations on Homelessness, Organizations, Policies and Encampments – known as the HOPE report – were first reported to the mayor in June, but the council has yet to publicly discuss it.(Tom Fox / Staff Photographer)
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Brodsky said the top three recommendations are to increase shelter capacity and permanent supportive housing options, accelerate affordable housing development and expand access to behavioral health and substance use resources.

To comply with the state’s 2021 ban on camping in public places, Magnis said, it’s important to have a strategy for closing down encampments and short-term actions must be accompanied with long-term solutions.

“There’s no one magic bullet. There’s no one single solution,” Magnis said. “This requires an extremely thoughtful approach to address this on many levels.”

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The task force’s recommendation to expand treatment for mental health and substance use issues comes after a history of the homeless response system not prioritizing that, according to Brodsky.

“The North Texas Behavioral Health Authority today does a good job,” Brodsky said. “What we’re getting much better at is coordinating the homeless response system with the behavioral health system.”

Louis Darrouzet, CEO for the Metroplex Civic and Business Association, said he supported efforts to increase treatment for mental health and substance use issues to help unhoused people.

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“Not too long ago, one of my friends visited Dallas and she was assaulted near the American Airlines Center by a homeless woman who was clearly in an altered state while walking to 7-Eleven,” Darrouzet said.

Housing advocates also supported the task force’s recommendation to build more affordable housing in a city that has seen rents and mortgages skyrocket in the past three years.

“We know that those high housing costs and low incomes are directly contributing to people being vulnerable to homelessness,” said Bryan Tony with the Dallas Housing Coalition. “We believe that homelessness is a direct result of how we construct and operate our cities. The solution to homelessness is affordable housing.”

Carrollton Mayor Steve Babick speaks before the Housing and Homelessness Solutions Committee at Dallas City Hall, January 18, 2024. HOPE Task Force co-chairs presented their recommendations on Dallas’ homeless issues during a special meeting. Dallas City Councilman and Housing and Homelessness Solutions committee chair Jesse Moreno called a special meeting to discuss a report penned by a Mayor Eric Johnson-appointed task force focused on homelessness. The task force’s recommendations on Homelessness, Organizations, Policies and Encampments – known as the HOPE report – were first reported to the mayor in June, but the council has yet to publicly discuss it.(Tom Fox / Staff Photographer)
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The mayors of three cities that share a border with Dallas spoke at the meeting of a need to build and act on a strategy to clear encampments of unhoused residents set up along roadways.

Farmers Branch Mayor Terry Lynne said his city shares a six-and-a-half-mile border with Dallas and frequently tries without much luck to clear encampments with the help of Dallas.

“We’ve had several homeless individuals get killed on the I-35 service road,” Lynne said. “I’m hoping that, through your efforts, we can find common ground to where we can both work to move these folks along.”

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Addison Mayor Bruce Arfsten asked for help from the city of Dallas and the North Texas Tollway Authority to clear camps near roadways.

“There’s an encampment structure that’s been placed on the sidewalk [at the Arapaho Road intersection]. It’s been there for months,” Arfsten said. “It’s a safety hazard, and the lack of a joint response from the Tollway and from the city of Dallas has been frustrating for us.”

Steve Babick, the mayor of Carrollton, spoke about the need for a regional response to clear encampments and for long-term solutions to house people.

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“We know that we’ve had success from Dallas as well as in Carrollton in terms of going in and cleaning them up,” Babick said.” The reality though is those homeless are simply displaced. They’re moving, and they kind of circle around up to Plano into Farmers Branch, into Carrollton and then back to Rosemeade Park. So a permanent solution has to be made.”

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