The Dallas Examiner
After the annual homeless count conducted by the Metro Dallas Homeless Alliance showed a 9% increase in homeless residents for the second year in a row and an 11% increase in chronically homeless residents in Dallas and Collin counties, MDHA held its Mayoral Forum on Homelessness to allow each of the candidates who are attempting to replace outgoing Mayor Mike Rawlings in the May election to discuss how they planned to handle the situation and individual’s concerns.
“Homelessness is one of the most important issues that will confront the next mayor of Dallas,” said Carl Falconer, president and CEO of the alliance. “Therefore, we felt that it was our obligation, as the lead agency of Dallas’ homeless response system, to give candidates a chance to lay out their visions for ending homelessness in our city.”
Four of the candidates attended the forum at the Communities Foundation of Texas, April 11. There, the quartet of leaders voiced their plans on mitigating the issue of the growing local indigent population.
Lynn McBee, former biotech researcher and CEO of the Young Women’s Preparatory Network; Dallas Independent School District trustee Miguel Solis; Councilman Scott Griggs; and Socialist Workers Party member Alyson Kennedy, shared common concerns but differing approaches to making headway on the issue.
The MDHA Point-in-Time Homeless Count, taken in January, revealed 4,538 individuals living on the streets of Dallas and Collin counties. When it came to specific statistics, the vast majority of homeless are men, and African Americans of both genders make up 48% of those without permanent housing.
Falconer served as the moderator of the forum and questioned the candidates in turn about how they would dispel the myths of homelessness.
In her answer, McBee considered what she had seen in her years working with The Salvation Army, The Bridge, and her efforts as part of the homeless count.
“This year, while I was counting, I did my own little mental math. Fifty percent have been incarcerated, and 70% are probably mentally ill, so it’s a very difficult population,” when it comes to finding permanent solutions, she affirmed.
Since the key is to get the homeless connected to support systems and services, her solution to negating myths is for the mayor to be more committed to having local agencies work together to solve the various problems the indigent population faces, rather than the patchwork group of city entities and relief groups applying varied solutions – a process Kennedy described as a “Band-Aid” to make people feel good about doing something.
“The best way to dispel myths I’ve found in public service is to come to the table with facts,” Solis offered. Shaping the Dallas City Council agenda also mattered.
“As Ms. McBee’s already mentioned, we cannot address this issue in silence. We need to have a robust interagency approach. We should focus on partnering with nonprofit organizations, government organizations, the faith-based community, but the city should be working with the county in a more thoughtful way. The city should be working with DART in a more thoughtful way,” he said.
Kennedy, a Walmart cashier, asserted that there had to be a complete global, societal change – one that turned away from financially rewarding corporations and owners of big business since such an economic structure left too many people without financial power or stability.
“I have coworkers that are homeless. I have coworkers that have no home, they have no apartment,” she affirmed as she described the wealth that so many companies generate.
“The workers at Walmart produce these profits. The workers that work for the oil companies produce these profits. This is the real crime that exists in this country,” she noted of widening class divisions that factor into causes of homelessness.
“But the only way we’re going to solve these problems is if working people begin to fight and struggle for our rights.”
Griggs, the former chair of the City Council’s Housing Committee, spoke about his plans as mayor when the issue of housing the homeless was introduced. Under his tenure on the committee, a system of Section 8 housing vouchers that developers were mandated to accept, and a fund to pay landlords for potential damage to their units by the homeless that they housed, was created by the city for those developers who wanted changes in zoning for their structures. His goal was to aggressively continue that program.
“We have rezoning cases happening all over the city,” the councilman added. “And so, we’re just going to make a policy on the front end, that when developers come in and ask for extra density, extra entitlements, they will have to accept housing choice vouchers. By doing that, and having our Mobility Assistance Program ready to help individuals experiencing homelessness, with the paperwork, with the money it takes to move, with the down payment to get into the apartment, we can move them into apartments, and then we’re positioned to provide them with the appropriate supportive services.”
When Falconer quizzed panelists on how they would prioritize homeless solutions in the city budget, the candidates all offered a variety of ideas.
“You’ve got to have everybody that’s a provider at the table making decisions because everybody has got so much expertise,” McBee mentioned. “So I think as mayor, you collaborate. You bring everybody to the table. You’ve got the mental health; you’ve got workforce solutions … ”
She also wants to increase spending on housing the homeless and public safety. Other candidates also believed increased funding for plans that work would be necessary, although the DISD trustee offered words of caution when it came to his five elements to fighting homelessness: education, housing, transportation, public safety and workforce readiness.
“Sixty-five percent of our budget right now, my understanding, is going to public safety,” and Solis posed that it might need to go up a bit more.
“But if you balance a $1.5 billion budget [at] DISD, for everything you spend up on, you gotta go spend down on something else. So as a city, we’re going to have to have a conversation about whether or not we’re going to shift this budget,” Solis remarked. “To get started on that, on day one of my administration, I’ll appoint a citizen’s budget review commission, and we’ll take a couple of priorities that I’ve begun to hear across the city during this campaign.”
“Wherever you see our budget, that’s our values,” Griggs complained about funds spent on the Margaret McDermott Bridge, money used for the Forest Park Golf Course, and incentives to draw in the latest Costco, decrying that City Hall is “focused on building boondoggles to have a postcard, and we’re focused on corporate welfare” as the homeless, police and libraries are still in need.
“We still live in a tale of two cities,” Solis voiced at one point, “and the compounding moral debts that we owe to generations of Dallasites is going to have to be reckoned with, and some of the effects that manifest themselves in homelessness are in direct tie to a century’s worth of decisions, man-made, rooted in race and racism. And our next mayor has got to be willing to be comfortable and courageous in talking about this.”