Members of the Dallas City Council are asking staff to develop a plan for City-sanctioned homeless encampment sites after being briefed on a report by the HOPE task force.

The Homelessness, Organizations, Policies, and Encampments (HOPE) task force, which Mayor Eric Johnson appointed in February 2023, delivered a report in June detailing findings about the state of homelessness in Dallas and recommendations for City officials.

HOPE task force co-chairs Peter Brodsky, Ellen Magnis, and Betty Culbreath briefed the Housing and Homelessness Solutions Committee on the findings and recommendations during a special called meeting Thursday evening.

The task force noted a “significant rise” in homelessness from 2014 to 2020 but said there has been a slight decline since 2020. They said there is no single cause of homelessness but maintained that the City must enforce laws against homeless encampments, as state law prohibits camping in public places, per HB 1925.

Task force members recommended the City continue to focus on encampment decommissioning — which includes closing encampments and providing their inhabitants with housing and supportive services — and make encampments with high rates of crime and violence a greater priority.

Furthermore, the task force said the City should increase its homelessness outreach workforce and add more temporary shelter and permanent supportive housing projects for the homeless.

By the end of the meeting, multiple council members had expressed support for “sanctioned encampments”: designated sites where homeless people and vagrants are permitted to live without the “barriers” put up by homeless shelters, such as sobriety. This was not a recommendation made by the task force, but council members claimed the policy would provide a location for vagrants who decline shelter and other City services to congregate so they are not camping on public land in Dallas.

Council Member Jesse Moreno (District 2), chair of the committee, directed City staff at the end of the meeting to develop a plan for sanctioned encampments to be presented to the committee in February.

“I ask City staff to develop specific and detailed action plans on how sanctioned encampments and single room occupancy could potentially come to fruition in the city of Dallas,” he said. “I would like this body to be knowledgeable of the specific steps that will be required for the City to inform these important policy discussions.”

Council Member Cara Mendelsohn (District 12) also supported the notion, explaining what she believes the sanctioned encampments should include and how they should function.

“What I would like to ask staff to do is bring back a proposal to us to open a sanctioned encampment available for entry 24/7,” she said. “I’d like this center to have a check-in system, which will be entered into HMIS, and [to] remove weapons from anybody who has them.”

“I’d like the sanctioned encampment site to offer a variety of housing options, including a section for tents and campers, but also a section for fixed tiny homes that have climate control and privacy doors, onsite food availability, trash service, bathrooms, showers, and security,” she explained, adding that the sanctioned encampments should be “adoptable by charitable groups” and have case management onsite.

“I’ve advocated for compassion plus enforcement. And I think our City [has] demonstrated enormous compassion, but we’re failing on enforcement,” she continued. “It’s clear our residents are asking for major changes. I believe our goal should be to get people who are experiencing homelessness into shelter, where they can be connected with every service they may need to regain stability and housing.”

“But for those who refuse shelter, we must have a viable alternative. And our current stance of the City to allow encampments is unacceptable,” Mendelsohn said. “It’s destructive to our business community, quality of life [of] nearby residents, and creates public safety and … public health challenges. And most importantly, it’s cruel to the people living outside. Our current state of homeless response in Dallas is unacceptable, and I believe we can and must be better.”

Earlier in the meeting, Council Member Adam Bazaluda (District 7) also expressed support for the idea of sanctioned encampments and “low barrier” shelters. Bazaluda was not present at the end of the meeting when Moreno and Mendelsohn delivered their statements.

Council Member Gay Donnell Willis (District 13) said she was “happy to have staff research a sanctioned encampment” but expressed some resistance to the idea.

“I just don’t think we have heard many success stories. In fact, there have been horror stories,” she said.

“We can entertain that. We should look at all the options that are out there,” Willis explained. “But we should be honest and share what some of the experiences have been in Austin and other places.”

Thursday’s meeting also included public comment from over 20 individuals, most of whom expressed frustration with the homeless situation in Dallas. Some said they support bringing the “one-stop-shop” concept utilized by Haven for Hope in San Antonio to Dallas.

This strategy congregates homelessness response efforts into one location and has been credited with a 77% reduction in unsheltered homelessness in downtown San Antonio. It has also polled favorably among Dallas residents. Some local stakeholders are working to deploy the model in Dallas. However, it remains to be seen whether City officials will support the effort.