To reduce the number of people experiencing homelessness in Dallas, a task force commissioned by the mayor is recommending that the city devote more funding for new homelessness-focused staff, change or remove zoning restrictions on homeless shelters, and streamline new affordable housing projects.

The task force—named HOPE because of its focus on homelessness, organizations, policies and encampments—delivered a number of recommendations in a report that was released June 30.

The backstory

In February, Mayor Eric Johnson announced the creation of HOPE, a new volunteer task force composed of 10 local homelessness service advocates. The group was tasked with assessing current policies regarding homelessness, researching plans to address homelessness and issuing a report of recommendations to Johnson’s office by mid-June.

For four months, the task force met weekly with experts, while gathering and studying data relating to homelessness. Now that the report has been delivered, the task force is disbanded, according to a June 30 news release from the mayor’s office. Their recommendations are meant to be considered by City Council for possible future changes.

Also of note

The creation of the task force came after Dallas City Council passed a controversial ordinance in October that made it a misdemeanor to walk or stand on a median that measures 6 feet or less. City officials said the ordinance is meant to address public safety, but others have claimed it seeks to criminalize homelessness, as many people experiencing homelessness stand on medians to panhandle, which is considered a free speech right and is protected by the First Amendment.

By the numbers

The number of individuals experiencing homelessness in Dallas and Collin counties has hit its lowest count in five years with 4,244 individuals accounted for, according to Housing Forward, the lead agency in the local homelessness response. Homelessness in the two counties has dropped by about 4% since 2022.

Over the past year, Housing Forward has received millions in both private and federal funding to serve and support the local homeless population.

The specifics

In the report, the task force acknowledged that the city has an obligation to enforce laws against encampments but added that city officials have a “duty” to provide alternatives to unsheltered individuals. Their report included recommendations on how to address homelessness relating to shelter options, the creation of different types of housing and the expansion of health services.

They recommend using inexpensive hotels and transitional housing as shelter options to transition people out of homeless encampments and to pair encampment decommissioning with supportive services such as mental health care, substance use treatment, benefits and employment assistance, and access to health care.

In addition, they recommend removing deed or zoning restrictions that limit the maximum use of existing shelter spaces and allocate funding to expand shelters. The city currently has zoning regulations that allow shelters to increase capacity during inclement weather such as extreme heat, but the task force said the city should do away with the weather-related limitations because of the severity of homelessness in the city.

Regarding housing, the task force said the city should “simplify and expedite” the legal, zoning, permitting, contracting and reimbursement processes involved in developing new housing projects. They said every council district must establish housing facilities for residents earning 50% or less of the area median income.

The task force said they support new funding to hire 16 street outreach workers, which would help expedite the rehousing process and enhance assistance for people experiencing homelessness. They also recommend the city dissolve two of its homelessness coalitions, the Citizens Homeless Commission and the Dallas Area Partnership, to reduce redundancy as the groups overlap a lot and there are various other homelessness-focused committees and agencies, according to the report.

In case you missed it

In May, White House officials announced that Dallas will be included in a first-of-its-kind initiative called “ALL INside” to help address the root causes of homelessness across the country, including a lack of affordable housing and access to health care resources.

As part of the new initiative, the White House will appoint a federal official in each ALL INside community, including Dallas, and deploy dedicated teams across the government to identify opportunities for funding, support and collaboration. Various federal agencies and departments will help facilitate access to resources, such as housing vouchers, state government employment and Medicaid.

What’s next

The task force’s recommendations do not create any change, but they are meant to be taken under consideration by City Council. However, the task force noted in the report that all recommendations were made to be “actionable” by the city.

In the June 30 news release, Johnson said the report will be referred to a City Council committee for consideration and possible future action. No consideration date has been set for City Council, which is on recess during the month of July.