Dallas officials told The Dallas Express they are assessing a Supreme Court ruling upholding municipal bans on homelessness encampments.

“I am currently reviewing the Grants Pass case and will be consulting with the City Attorney’s Office regarding its effect on the City of Dallas,” Council Member Jesse Moreno (District 2), chair of the Housing & Homelessness Solutions Committee, said in an email on Tuesday. “I also will be expecting an executive session discussion with the Housing & Homelessness Solutions Committee to discuss this matter further at a later date.”

The Dallas City Council and its committees are in recess until August.

Dallas Ordinance

U.S. Supreme Court justices, in a 6-3 decision on Friday, overturned a lower court ruling that struck down a Grants Pass, Oregon, ordinance that fined people $295 for sleeping outside even when no shelter space was available, as previously relayed by The Dallas Express.

In Dallas, a person who “sleeps or dozes in a street, alley, park, or other public place” or does the same in “a vacant lot adjoining a public street or highway” may be fined $500.

“Today’s ruling does nothing to support our community to resolve homelessness,” Housing Forward CEO Sarah Kahn said in a statement. “We will remain laser-focused on strategies that provide meaningful solutions — those that end homelessness for our neighbors and address public health crises on our streets.”

In March, Kahn told the Housing & Homeless Solutions Committee that 30 people over the previous month had been moved from encampments at Routh Street and Woodall Rodgers Freeway and Buckner Boulevard and I-30 into housing.

“The encampment rehousing process [is] expanding as we speak and [has] been scaling since January,” she said. “We also refer people to permanent supportive housing, which is a provider who is paying the rent. … We’re actively closing four sites currently.”

A member of the committee, Council Member Cara Mendelsohn (District 12), said at the time that the City has more than 400 encampments.

“They’re literally laying with their head inches from the roadway of cars going 50 plus miles per hour, with 55,000 cars per day going by. They’re drugged out. … This is a terrible way for them to exist, and they are living off petty crimes, and you know that’s not being addressed. And I have all the compassion in the world for the person who has had a series of unfortunate events and needs some help,” she said.

‘Reviewing the Opinion’

Mendelsohn declined to comment on the Supreme Court ruling.

The Dallas Express, through the City’s communications office, also asked for a statement from Christine Crossley, director of the Office of Homeless Solutions (OHS).

“We are aware of the court’s ruling and are reviewing the opinion,” a spokesperson said in an email.

The Associated Press reported that homelessness in the United States increased 12% last year to its highest reported level — more than 650,000 people —since the annual point-in-time count in 2007. Federal data shows that nearly half of people experiencing homelessness sleep outside.

The Dallas Express has reported that since the launch of R.E.A.L. Time Rehousing in 2021, Housing Forward has decreased overall homelessness by 19% in Dallas and Collin counties. Unsheltered homelessness has fallen by 24%, and more than 10,100 people have been housed.

‘Incarcerating Individuals’

Another member of the Housing & Homeless Solutions Committee, Council Member Chad West (District 1), did not immediately respond to a request for comment about the Supreme Court ruling. But he told the Dallas Observer that “we’re penalizing and incarcerating individuals who don’t have safety nets in place when they lose their homes.”

The other committee members, Council Member Zarin Gracey (District 3) and Council Member Gay Donnell Willis (District 13), did not respond to messages seeking comment.

Kahn and Crossley explained to the committee in June how outreach workers are trying to clear encampments.

“You do not have to go far from this building to see a lot of people sleeping in very unacceptable conditions,” Kahn said. “And I know that we all take our responsibility very seriously to ensure that people don’t have to sleep outside on the streets.”

As the All Neighbors Coalition, a collective of more than 140 organizations led by Housing Forward to provide resources and support for the homeless, aims to reach a 50% reduction in unsheltered homelessness by 2026, Kahn said it will require “a two-pronged approach — a $30 million rehousing initiative to pick up with the R.E.A.L. Time Initiative is winding down to ensure that we’re keeping up with that demand from month to month to get people back into permanent housing as well as a more targeted street-to-home encampment response model.”

Such a model is “proven,” Kahn claimed.

“We have used [it] to close encampments, and this is a model that now a few communities across the country are using to close encampments and really manage the public safety and public health concerns related to unsheltered homelessness by having very targeted efforts of going on-site and supporting people to move directly into permanent housing with wraparound supportive services.”

However, Housing Forward still needs the City’s help to determine the locations of “all established encampments across Dallas,” Kahn said.

‘Humane, Responsible Way’

“[We] need to sort of go to those encampments systematically and … close those encampments by bringing rehousing assistance and behavioral health care directly on-site at those locations.”

Crossley said that once the sites are decommissioned, OHS works with “multidisciplinary teams” to ensure they remain closed.

“And that’s actually being headed now in partnership with our Office of Integrated Public Safety Solutions to make sure that we have enforcement on board to do this in a humane, responsible way that keeps the sites closed as we house people.”

Gov. Greg Abbott signed HB 1925 into law in June 2021. The measure bans camping in public places. In a news release the same year, he and Attorney General Ken Paxton sent a joint letter to the Texas Municipal League, Texas Association of Counties, and municipalities across the state reminding them the legislation must be enforced.

Polling by The Dallas Express shows that roughly 75% of Dallas residents think homelessness, vagrancy, and aggressive panhandling are “major” problems in the city. Respondents also appeared to support the homeless services model used in San Antonio — Haven for Hope. It has been credited with a 77% reduction in unsheltered homelessness in San Antonio’s downtown area.