Dallas voters will go to the polls next Tuesday, November 8, to decide on several constitutional and local matters. Among these important issues is a proposal--Proposition 14--that would provide bond funding to build our city's first genuine Homeless Assistance Center (HAC).
The bond issue would provide $23.8 million to construct the center. Of that amount, approximately $5 million is earmarked for the construction of Single Room Occupancy (SRO) apartments in the city.
The opposition appears to be a tight knit, but small group of downtown business owners and developers who are convinced providing dramatically increased services and attention to the homeless and the challenges of homelessness will somehow make our problem worse.
The very vocal opposition group has spent almost fives times as much as HAC supporters. Slick mailers, electronic phone calls and yard signs are being used to dissuade voters from supporting the HAC.
The opposition's main beef has to do with the proposed location of the new center. They feel certain that placing the center somewhere outside of downtown will remove the homeless from their upscale doorsteps.
Ironically, if the HAC proposal is defeated, it is very likely nothing will be done downtown for many more years. Proposition 14 does not identify the site for the new center, so theoretically it could be built somewhere other than downtown.
But that would be a mistake.
Again, if the opposition group gets its way and the HAC is located outside the downtown loop, the center's impact on the very problems this group fears so much will only grow.
The HAC can be a model tool for a city that desperately needs to respond to the problem of homelessness.
We have nothing like the proposed HAC in the city today.
Imagine for a moment a center that functions as a "tool kit" for constructing new alternatives, new options for new lives--a sort of one-stop shop on the way to a more stable life.
Imagine a place where case management can take place, but with a real difference. A place where people with complex needs can come to be known and heard as friends, rather than clients.
Imagine a place where a person or a family can stop temporarily on the way to permanent housing and employment.
Imagine a place that invites the Dallas arts and humanities community into the mix.
Imagine a place where jobs and education and hope co-exist together for the benefit of people who tonight will be sleeping on our streets.
Imagine a place where mental health services engage the people who need them most.
Imagine a place where addiction treatment referrals can take place and where follow-up will be standard operating procedure.
Imagine a place where the poorest among us can come to network with new friends and partners who can provide new chances for better lives.
The HAC will not be just another shelter. As a matter of fact, there will be few beds in the center. The ones that will be there are to be designated for special needs and programs.
No, the HAC will not be a shelter primarily. It will be a way station, a resting place for regrouping before moving on, up and out.
Presently, our city offers no such resource for our weakest, poorest, most vulnerable citizens.
Next Tuesday we have a chance to change that.
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