Axios Dallas

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Happy Thursday! Ignoring a problem doesn't make it disappear.

🌤 Today's weather: Slightly cooler at 95.

🎵 Sounds like: "Almost Home"

Situational awareness: Dallas City Council passed a resolution to limit resources used to investigate abortions and bar city staff from saving data on the medical procedures. 

  • Programming note: Today's newsletter is dedicated to one topic — homelessness.

Today's newsletter is 1,038 words of progress — a 4-minute read.

1 big thing: Homelessness rising

Illustration of a tent with a padlock around it.

Illustration: Maura Losch/Axios

Signs of rising homelessness pepper the city: a sleeping bag at a train station, a cardboard shanty under a highway, a tent tucked into the brush, a car stuffed with belongings and towels covering the windows. 

Driving the news: Dallas leaders are prioritizing cleaning up debris around campsites, closing more encampments and getting people into housing. 

  • But activists have pushed for people to have more time to pack and find other places to stay before the city closes campsites. 

State of play: More people are slipping into homelessness because of rising rents, high inflation, and the end of pandemic-era eviction protections and stimulus payments. 

  • Shelter service providers are reporting more calls for help this year than in the past two years combined. And the need is well above pre-pandemic levels. 

Why it matters: The city of Dallas and homeless services providers have worked for years to develop an efficient system to move people off the streets and into affordable housing, but those efforts could be thwarted by new demand. 

By the numbers: Family Gateway, which serves Dallas and Collin counties, received 4,437 calls between January and June this year, up from 1,828 during the same period last year. 530 callers reported living in cars with their families.

  • The first day its expanded 60,000-square-foot shelter opened in June, Dallas' Austin Street Center had 54 new people ready to stay there that night. The new building houses 350 people, up from 248 at its previous site, and has the capacity for more.

What they're saying: Shelter providers are experiencing the crisis people expected in 2020 with "a whole new batch of people who normally wouldn't be homeless," Family Gateway president and CEO Ellen Magnis tells Axios.

  • "If you were just barely holding on, you're not able to hold on anymore," Magnis says. 

Go deeper

2. 🕰 Then vs. now: How Dallas handles homelessness

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.

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 sending outreach workers to meet people living in camps and help them find housing. The effort can take up to six weeks.

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

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

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.

3. Tracking progress can be a challenge

Data: Dallas and Collin counties annual point in time counts; Chart: Axios Visuals

Moving an unhoused person off the street isn't as simple as saying, "Hey, here's a home."

  • The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development lays out definitions for which people can receive which funding to move them into housing. 

Why it matters: There are funding streams for specific populations, including the chronically homeless, veterans and youth.

  • Yes, but: Even if someone secures financial assistance, they still have to find a landlord who will accept their housing voucher.

How it works: Metro Dallas Homeless Alliance is the lead agency in Dallas and Collin counties' homeless response. It's responsible for directing continuum of care funding for housing homeless individuals and families.

  • Every year, MDHA conducts a federally required point-in-time count, essentially a census that surveys people who are staying in shelters and transitional housing. People found on the street or living in encampments are also asked questions.
  • The census collects demographic information and identifies veterans and people who have been homeless for longer than a year.

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

Details: 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.

4. 🗣 In their words

A left behind sign along Royal Lane. Photo: Tasha Tsiaperas/Axios

Stacey, better known by her street name "Star," keeps all of her belongings, including a can of corn, packed in a stroller along Royal Lane under Interstate 35. 

  • A pile of paper sits on her lap so she can write because she can't speak.

State of play: Stacey, like many unhoused people in Dallas, says she's constantly on the move, trying to find a place where she won't receive a criminal trespass ticket or be forced to pack up so city crews can clean. 

What's happening: Stacey owns a tent but hasn't found a good place to set it up. She has met street outreach workers but says she was told there's no room in the shelters. 

What she's saying: She says the money the state has received from coronavirus relief funds isn't helping.

  • "Instead, feels like they've been shutting down camps, making things even more difficult than we already do for ourselves as a means to cover the population of us because money was misused," she wrote.

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5. 👐 How you can help

Illustrated collage of two hands grasping one another with coins falling in the background.

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

Homelessness is a complex problem without simple solutions, but there are a few things everyone can do to help. 

Speak up: Attend budget town hall meetings and voice support for municipal spending to close encampments and advocate for measures to move people into shelter and housing. 

  • Call or write your representatives to push for more affordable housing.  

The bottom line: As Magnis, the Family Gateway CEO, said: "Now is our crisis."

Read how to donate and volunteer

Our picks: 

🏘 Mike is reading about how technology might be able to fight the "not in my backyard" attitude.

👯 Tasha is learning about cross-class friendships and how they increase economic mobility.

🎧 Naheed is relistening to Tasha's appearance on Think on homelessness.

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