Permanent Supportive Housing for the Homeless

One of the newest and most successful trends in addressing the homeless problem is getting the homeless into permanent, supportive housing. Permanent supportive housing has proven to be a better alternative to constantly cycling the chronically homeless through the criminal justice system and hospitals, which studies have shown are more costly. PSH provides assistance (not necessarily on-site) for drug and alcohol abuse, mental health treatment, physical disabilities, and other chronic needs.

November 28 and 29, I was invited to attend and join a panel at the annual meeting for the Corporation for Supportive Housing in Arlington, Virginia. CSH is a national non-profit that assists governments and non-profits in developing strategies to develop permanent supportive housing.

The conference was extremely helpful. There were around 200 people in attendance from all across the country, including representatives from state and local governments. I learned so much listening to best practices that were beneficial in other communities, as well as programs that didn’t work as well.

Karen Rayzor, head of our Environmental Health Department, attended as well, and we both got a lot out of the conference. In December, we met again with representatives from CSH to discuss ways they can assist Dallas as we develop a comprehensive approach to homelessness and build the Homeless Assistance Center. This month, Ms. Rayzor and I will be meeting with Mike Rawlings, the Mayor’s appointed “Homeless Czar,” to discuss what we learned at the conference and how we can apply it to Dallas.

Council Briefing: Homeless Assistance Center

The City Council was briefed again on the location for the homeless assistance center. All the councilmembers left City Hall in three vans and visited the St. Louis site (which is the first choice of Mr. Dunning’s Homeless Task Force), and the Blue Bell site. At the request of the new councilmembers, we also visited the Industrial site.

I had seen the St. Louis site before, but going out and visiting all the sites, one after another, was very helpful. A number of business leaders are concerned that putting the center at the St. Louis site will hurt businesses and revitalization. The Blue Bell site is not easily accessible from Downtown (it’s across I-30 and hard to get to on foot). Same for the Industrial site, which is far from current homeless services (though the services could arguably move), and right in the middle of the Trinity Park.

When we got back to City Hall, one thing we all agreed on was the need to make single-room occupancy units (“SROs”) part of the bond package. We are NOT going to “fix” the homeless problem by building an intake center, and we would be wrong to try to sell it as such. It’s not a shelter, and it won’t house the 6000 homeless in Dallas. What it will do is direct the homeless to helpful resources (mental health, drug rehab, job training, etc.). In addition to the center, we need SROs to help some of the homeless back on their feet and back into society. Cities that have dealt successfully with the homeless problem also incorporate SROs.

Next week, we’ll discuss the size of the bond package to put before the voters in the November election.