Although Dallas has been trying to eliminate homeless and vagrant “encampments” for quite some time, they can still be found under various expressways and in vacant areas around the city. Data shows the number of homeless and vagrant individuals is increasing.
The Office of Homeless Solutions is the city department tasked with overseeing the removal of these encampments and relocating their inhabitants.
The Office of Homeless Solutions (OHS) was established by the City of Dallas in 2017 to “prevent and intervene in homelessness by combating the complexity of homelessness with innovative and effective solutions.”
In addition, the office promotes collaboration between public and private partners to solidify a diverse resource portfolio to “adequately address homelessness.”
The OHS does not directly provide beds and shelter to homeless and vagrant individuals. Instead, the department directs taxpayer funds to shelters throughout the community that provide services to the homeless and vagrants, according to Jennifer Brown, the manager of public information for OHS.
The OHS has enrolled over 1,385 “unsheltered” persons in the Dallas R.E.A.L Time Rapid Rehousing (DRTRR) program to date, and approximately 700 such people have been housed.
Still, the number of homeless and vagrant individuals continues to rise. The Dallas Express reported that in Dallas County, the number of “chronically homeless” — those homeless for more than a year, also called vagrants — rose from 327 in 2021 to 1,029 in 2022.
This is in keeping with a national trend; data shows that chronic homelessness, or vagrancy, has surged by 40% in the U.S. since 2016.
Over the past year, there has also been a rise in family homelessness and vagrancy. The number of families experiencing homelessness this year is 822, up from 559 last year, according to The Dallas Morning News.
OHS continues to interact with those who are still living on the streets and in encampments. Brown stated that the decision to dismantle a homeless or vagrant encampment is based on service requests the City receives via the 311 smartphone app.
In some cases, encampments are closed due to reported instances of violence or proximity to a school, according to Brown.
When an encampment is closed, the OHS Outreach team, with assistance from community organizations and partners, offers emergency shelter and additional services in an attempt to relocate the encampment residents, including enrolling them in the DRTRR program.
The annual cost to taxpayers for cleaning and removing encampments is an estimated $1 million, according to Brown.
The City owns several properties geared toward serving those experiencing homelessness. Both Family Gateway and The Bridge Recovery Center operate out of City-owned properties. Additionally, two hotels and a former hospital purchased by Dallas are set to be remodeled into housing and services sites for the homeless and vagrant population.
Brown stated that OHS’s goal, with support from the Dallas City Council, is to have locations serving those experiencing homelessness across all 14 districts that are sustainably established and operated. She did not provide an estimate as to when that goal could feasibly be accomplished.