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KERA's One Crisis Away project focuses on North Texans living on the financial edge.

Dallas Just Greenlit A Plan To Help Over 2,000 People Facing Homelessness

homeless housing camp rhonda.jpeg
Keren Carrión
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KERA News
At the beginning of the year, Dallas city officials began shutting down the homeless encampment known as "Camp Rhonda." In March, organizers reopened the camp by setting up tents at Pioneer Plaza, steps away from City Hall, as a way to protest the city’s treatment of the homeless community.

Dallas County Commissioners gave final approval Tuesday to the new Dallas Real Time Rapid Rehousing initiative — a $70 million plan to get more than 2,700 residents into supportive housing in the next two years.

The effort to help people experiencing homelessness will combine the resources of three cities — Dallas, Grand Prairie and Mesquite — as well as Dallas County, the local housing authority and the Metro Dallas Homeless Alliance.

Ashley Brundage, executive director of housing solutions at United Way, helped craft the initiative. She said the rapid rehousing model they’re using is a tried and true method to stop people from cycling in and out of homelessness.

“You always want to put people into housing first and then address any of the issues that they have, that could have led them into homelessness,” Brundage said. “It is really hard for somebody to address a substance abuse issue, or even just get a job, when they're living on the streets or they're in an emergency shelter.”

Next Steps

Brundage said the effort will hopefully kick off Oct. 1, with street outreach teams going to encampments and shelters to speak with individuals and families facing homelessness to assess their needs. Then it will be determined what type of housing assistance they qualify for.

Families, domestic violence survivors and people with severe mental and physical health challenges will be offered vouchers, providing long-term subsidized housing. There’s more than 750 of those vouchers available.

Brundage said another 2,000 people will receive housing subsidies for up to a year while they work with a case manager to get the health care, social services and job training they need.

The coalition also plans to work with Veterans Affairs with the hope of ending veteran homelessness in Dallas by the end of this year.

“This is a once in a lifetime opportunity,” Brundage said. “We've got a lot of federal funding that is coming into our community. Not just to address homelessness, which is the dollars that we're using here — but even through rental assistance, that if leveraged correctly during this time can make a huge impact in our community.”

Who's Paying For It?

The initiative will be funded with a mix of private and federal funds. The Metro Dallas Homeless Alliance is working toraise $10 million from private donations and the Dallas Housing Authority will provide $10 million worth of vouchers. The City of Dallas and Dallas County are contributing about $25 million each in federal stimulus cash to the rapid rehousing program.

Some people argue that federal money could be used to address other systemic challenges associated with homelessness, like a lack of affordable housing. Dallas City Council member Cara Mendelsohn raised that issue during a meeting last month, saying the plan fell short by not addressing it.

“We’ll have nothing to show for this plan in three years, in five years or 10 years, because we’ll have spent it all on rent instead of spending it and investing it in structures that could last decades,” Mendelsohn said.

Mandy Semple is a managing partner at Clutch Consultancy Group, a firm that was hired to help Dallas re-envision its response to homeless relief. She said this money is a one-time allotment and not the best source to pay for low-income housing.

“The highest and best one-time use was to get as many people out of crisis and into housing as possible,” Semple said. “It doesn't negate the fact that the city, and frankly the region, needs a comprehensive strategy to expand affordable housing.”

She said the money would’ve only afforded the city a few units, rather than catalyzing a larger, more comprehensive, affordable housing strategy. But that’s something Semple hopes the city can tackle in the future.

“Dallas has a strong network of individual organizations providing homeless services, doing incredible work, and strong leaders within that sphere,” she said. “That represents a real ripeness to come in and help organize and align all of those incredible efforts to really amplify impact.”

'Are They Just Gonna Throw Us Away?'

Ryan Ahmadian, an organizer with Dallas Stops Evictions and co-founder of the Dallas Houseless Committee, said he’s excited to see the plan roll out and hopes it will be successful. But he wishes the entities involved would include the homeless community more in their conversations about the plan.

“If you go out here and talk to every single person here, probably about 20% of the people actually know that this initiative got passed and it even is a thing,” Ahmadian said, referring to Camp Rhonda, an encampment he's heavily involved in. “People don’t know about it, the news hasn’t reached them yet.”

Nate, who lives at Camp Rhonda, said he still has a lot of unanswered questions about the city's plan.

“Right now man, everyone is just confused and doesn’t know what’s going to happen,” he said.

And, he said he’s wary of the city because of how they’ve handled encampments in the past.

“Since I’ve been here I’ve only seen two people leave [and get into housing],” Nate said. “All this time and all this money. People are just sitting around wondering, ‘What’s the city gonna do? Are they just gonna throw us away or what are they going to do?’”

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Got a tip? Email Rebekah Morr at rmorr@kera.org. You can follow her on Twitter @bekah_morr.