Dallas is developing a new plan for sheltering the homeless during inclement winter weather, a measure made all the more necessary by the City’s continued failure to adequately address its homelessness and vagrancy crisis.
Under Dallas City Code, the Office of Homeless Solutions (OHS) is authorized to activate Temporary Inclement Weather Shelter (TIWS) when the temperature is anticipated to be below 36 degrees in wet weather or 32 degrees in dry weather for 3 hours or longer between 4 p.m. and 8 a.m. the next day.
On Thursday, OHS Assistant Director Wanda Moreland briefed the Citizen Homeless Commission on the new TIWS plan.
According to her Inclement Weather Memo shared with the commission, the updated plan consists of three phases, allowing the expanded sheltering services to be opened up as needed when other locations have reached capacity.
When the weather calls for it, the TIWS plan begins with Phase 1, opening the Austin Street Center shelter at 2929 Hickory Street as the primary site. Nearby Oak Lawn United Methodist Church and Warren United Methodist Church also volunteered to operate as shelters.
City officials told The Dallas Express the churches receive no taxpayer money for serving as shelters but are supported by OHS in the form of a North Texas Behavioral Health Authority (NTBHA) care coordinator and COVID-19 supplies, such as masks and testing kits.
When the Phase 1 locations reach capacity, Phase 2 will activate J. Erik Jonsson Central Library as an additional shelter.
Phase 3 would kick in when every TWIS shelter reaches capacity. Those sheltered at Phase 1 and Phase 2 locations would be transported to Fair Park, which would then serve as the primary shelter site. In that scenario, Phase 1 and 2 shelters would close once the sheltered people are transported.
When the commission questioned why the Phase 1 and 2 locations had to close rather than simply remain open while Fair Park served as an additional location, Moreland hesitated to give a definitive answer but did say it had to do with staffing and supply limitations. She claimed it would be more efficient to operate the entire sheltering operation from Fair Park when Phase 3 levels are reached.
Asked why Fair Park could not be used as the primary shelter from the beginning, Moreland said that Fair Park has many other events going on and should only be used in a “worst-case scenario.”
It is not unlikely that the earlier phases’ shelters will fill up, as the 2022 Point-in-Time Homeless (PIT) Count conducted earlier this year recorded 3,986 homeless and vagrant people in Dallas County.
This coming Wednesday, the city council will vote on whether to authorize a lease agreement with Austin Street Center to be used not only for inclement weather sheltering in the winter but also for office space, storage, training, and year-round sheltering operations by OHS and the Office of Emergency Management. The one-year lease would cost city taxpayers $2.2 million.
A short-term use agreement with Fair Park will also be an item on the city council’s agenda. The two-year deal, with renewal options, would cost city taxpayers approximately $468,000.
As previously reported by The Dallas Express, the City spent $12 million on OHS last fiscal year with few tangible results. For the fiscal year 2022-23, the OHS budget was increased to $14 million.
The City and OHS have recently been criticized by residents for their botched effort to establish a “homeless services” facility in Oak Cliff.
Community members have voiced frustration with the City’s lack of communication and its decision to set up the facility directly across from an elementary school, as previously covered by The Dallas Express.