Plans for expanding shelter bed capacity will help, but advocates say reducing a growing homeless population long-term will require affordable housing solutions that could make some north Dallas residents uncomfortable.
“Affordable housing – that word always seems to conjure up images that don’t sit well,” said John Castle, a board member of The Bridge, one of Dallas’ largest homeless recovery organizations.
“It’s an issue for young people, city employees, and a lot of folks that need affordable housing. Where are they going to live and how are we going to attract those people to Dallas if we don’t have a sufficient supply of affordable housing?”
Castle favors having more mixed-income housing, properties with units for individuals from a variety of income ranges.
“It’s going to take a lot of political will,” he said.
To be effective though, mixed-income housing would need to be located in areas both poor and wealthy, he said.
“When you have a classroom full of kids that are mixed in terms of where they come from, what socio-economic status and all that, they all do better,” Castle said. “The diversity really works. We in the Park Cities think that we’re helping by trying to keep our kids sort of walled off in a way, but we’re not doing our kids any favors.”
Housing affordability would be addressed in the later stages of the city of Dallas Homeless Solutions Proposed Strategy, which emerged after a new count of the homeless population this year.
January’s point-in-time count of the homeless report showed Dallas has had a 9 percent increase in homelessness since 2017 and a 24 percent increase in those living outside, in vehicles, and other areas not meant for human habitation.
The strategy is split into four parts, Tracks One and Two aim to alleviate immediate needs for shelter, while Tracks Three and Four would address landlord incentives and permanent housing.
“We haven’t received official word yet about the component we’re involved in, but we feel pretty good given the feedback,” said Sam Merten, chief operating officer of The Bridge. “Nobody on the council seemed to oppose the shelter expansion.”
The same can’t be said for Track Two.
Dallas City Council members didn’t like proposals for converting the city’s recreational facilities into rotating 90-day temporary shelters. Instead, the Office of Homeless Solutions will explore use of Timberlawn, a former psychiatric care hospital, as a potential temporary shelter.
There’s not a timeline for the other tracks, yet, but addressing affordability will be key, Merten said. “There’s not a lot of $700 a month one bedroom, one baths in the city of Dallas. They’re more $1,000 or $1,100 and that’s a real challenge for so many.”