More and more people are experiencing homelessness across North Texas — and candidates in the Dallas mayoral race are weighing in on how to change that.
Advocates say homelessness is among the biggest issues that the next mayor of Dallas will face, so expectations are high for the new mayor to do more to address the problem.
Hundreds turned out to Thursday morning’s mayoral forum focused on homelessness, hosted by the Metro Dallas Homeless Alliance. Four of the nine mayoral candidates took part.
Homeless Alliance CEO Carl Falconer has called for better communication between nonprofits, health care providers and other groups who serve the homeless. He asked mayoral candidates how they would take on that challenge.
"What concrete steps would you take to ensure that all Dallas service providers and funders are working together?" Falconer said.
Candidate Lynn McBee, a nonprofit CEO, said the new mayor should be a strong leader who can bring diverse groups together.
"You've got to have everybody that's a provider at the table making decisions because everybody has got so much expertise," McBee said. "So I think as mayor, you collaborate. You bring everybody to the table."
McBee also wants to boost funding for public safety. She says Dallas needs to allocate more money toward housing the homeless, instead of relying on the private sector to fund those efforts.
For the second year in a row, the homeless population in Dallas and Collin Counties has grown by 9 percent, according to the latest point-in-time homeless count. It showed that on any given night, there are more than 4,500 homeless people in those two counties. The region also saw an 11 percent increase in the number of people who have been homeless for at least a year — what's known as chronic homelessness.
Candidate Miguel Solis, a Dallas school district trustee, said he wants a group of citizens to review the city budget and highlight their priorities — including reducing homelessness. Solis says Dallas needs more affordable housing, a better public transit system and jobs with higher salaries.
"As your mayor, I want to rebuild that infrastructure of opportunity so that we get to the root cause of what drives homelessness to begin with," Solis said.
Candidate Alyson Kennedy is an activist and a member of the Socialist Workers Party. Kennedy says the country’s economic system contributes to inequality and homelessness.
"These problems that we're discussing here are world problems," Kennedy said, "and they require working people in all of our countries uniting and beginning to figure out that we can solve these problems."
Scott Griggs, a Dallas City council member, is also running for mayor. He says the city needs to be actively seeking partnerships with nonprofits to address homelessness. He’s also critical of the way Dallas has prioritized what it spends its money on.
"It's time to put the money into our streets, into our parks, into our rec centers, into programs to address homelessness," Griggs said. "That's what needs to happen, and we can really change this city."
Griggs says that in Dallas, the city's budget ultimately reflects its values.