Homelessness in Dallas

Dallas is still reeling from last week’s violence. 2016 will go down in history as possibly the worst summer ever. Meanwhile, temperatures are hitting the 100 degrees mark. If you’re from around here, you know that this is also the time of year for ferocious thunderstorms that cause serious property damage–even loss of life. Imagine suffering through a Texas summer when your only place to call home is a tent under a bridge.
As you probably know, the City of Dallas closed down the homeless encampment under the I-45 overpass in May. The problem is, the 300 former residents didn’t just disappear. With no place to go, most migrated to other camps. Tent cities under I-30 and Haskell and at I-45 and Coombs are mushrooming. It’s now been announced that these camps will be closed, starting July 19, citing health and safety concerns. You don’t need a crystal ball to predict that new camps will just spring up somewhere else. The Dallas Observer compares it to a game of Whack-a-Mole. The Mayor’s Commission on Homelessness is on it. But in the meantime, the shelters are full to bursting and agencies like Housing Crisis Center are struggling to find affordable housing in a city with skyrocketing rents and a 97% occupancy rate. Homelessness is clearly an ongoing problem in Dallas and elsewhere. Why are there so many people living under bridges in a city like Dallas?  To really answer this question, we have to look to the root cause of the problem.
According to the most recent figures available from Communities Foundation of Texas, 39% of households in the City of Dallas live in asset poverty, defined as not having 3 months worth of living expenses set aside for emergencies. If you count only liquid assets, that figure is a staggering 49.8% for the state of Texas overall. In other words, about half of all Texans don’t have enough to tide them over in the event of a major emergency–lose your job and you’re on the streets. The other half  could survive, but only by selling the equity in their home, business or car.
What’s to be done? For many, just being able to find a good job is the first hurdle they have to overcome. We have had outstanding successes with our new employment program: since its implementation at the first of the year, 8 people have found jobs. But having a job, even a good one, isn’t always enough. A medical emergency can spell disaster for a family with meager assets. Texas ranks dead last for access to affordable health care. Even an expensive car repair can send a household over the edge.
The City is working on finding long-term solutions. Learn more at the Dallas Commission on Homelessness. But is it enough? Tell us what you think. What should Dallas be doing to help the homeless?
Photo: Dallas Morning News