Aug 11, 2022 - News

How Dallas homelessness prevention has evolved since Tent City

A bulldozer clears out debris from a tent encampment
Tent City was closed in May 2016. Photo: Xinhua/Tian Dan via Getty Images

Dallas closed one of the largest tent encampments ever seen in the city in 2016, after outreach workers spent months meeting the hundreds of people who lived there to move them into shelters, housing or other programs.

  • It was a turning point for how the city handles homelessness. 

Reality check: Encampments didn't disappear after Tent City's closure, but they did get smaller and more spread out across Dallas.

  • And at some of these campsites, populations have grown from a handful of people to 50 or more.

What's happening: The city is giving people longer to prepare for planned closures and is sending outreach workers to meet people living in camps and help them find housing. The effort can take as long as six weeks.

  • Yes, but: If encampments are on private property or violence has been reported there, the city will close them sooner.

What changed: After 2016, the local homeless response system made some basic improvements, including compiling details in one centralized database on people experiencing homelessness. 

Backdrop: During stay-at-home orders in 2020, the city, homeless shelters and large agencies handling federal housing funds started talking daily — the fragmented system's first time meeting regularly.

  • Since then, the groups have continued to talk once a week, streamlining the nonprofit and government pipeline to move people into housing.

What they're saying: "It's a much bigger lift up front but over time as those people are no longer homeless, the system pays less," Crossley tells Axios. 

The big picture: In the most recent count there were 4,410 unhoused people in Dallas.

  • And, chronic homelessness — anyone who has been homeless for longer than a year or has experienced homelessness several times in three years — has doubled in Dallas and Collin counties since 2020.

The bottom line: Moving people off the street will take time and cost a lot. Housing advocates and shelter providers must be creative to continue the progress.

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