On any given night there are 3,000 to 4,000 homeless people in Dallas. A year ago, the City Council adopted a resolution directing the City Manager to remove the homeless population residing in public places by redirecting them to homeless shelters.

In order to successfully do this, the City Council and City staff met with homeless advocates, service providers, neighborhood groups and business owners to develop a plan for the “hard-to-reach” homeless population, the 150 to 200 individuals who live under our bridges and other public places. During this process it became clear that the existing homeless shelters were not the solution and a Homeless Assistance Center was needed.

In most cases, existing homeless shelters have admission criteria that often are barriers for many of the homeless. Some have age and sex requirements. Others require a nightly fee or attendance at religious services. In any event, they all empty their shelters each morning, pouring hundreds of individuals onto the streets.

The proposed Homeless Assistance Center would solve these problems. The center would provide a sleeping shelter and the delivery of social services. The admissions criteria would be flexible. Individuals would not be turned away and could stay all day. There would be showers, washers, dryers and lockers. Food service, medical treatment, job training and counseling would also be available. Construction would cost $300,000.

During the past year the City staff also completed an in-depth survey of our homeless population. Here are some of the findings:

  • 30 percent suffer from mental illness
  • 26 percent are military veterans
  • 19 percent are elderly with no family
  • 70 percent are African American
  • 10 percent recently arrived to Dallas
  • 72 percent are single men
  • 41 percent have chronic drug/alcohol problems

One of the biggest problems with the homeless is crime. Through enhanced police patrols, crime in the central business district is going down. However, crime in the homeless community is going up. About 25 percent of Downtown crime is related to the homeless; either the victim or the criminal is homeless. The City is working to reduce the homeless-related crime rate.

Last month the City Council adopted a resolution to enforce our current regulations by April 24. This means that we will enforce our already existing laws prohibiting sleeping in public, aggressive panhandling, and unregulated feeding sites.

Contrary to media reports, we will not bull dose under the bridges. We are utilizing case workers to reduce the bridge population through social service referrals and working to get them into shelters.

This is a beginning, but to solve this problem, we need to address the root causes of homelessness. It is clear that the status quo is not acceptable. Life under the bridge is unsafe and unsanitary. Likewise, simply moving these people around the City is not a solution. It is not a financial issue, the City currently spends $1.3 million annually on the homeless. We can and must find a solution before the problem gets worse.

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