With homelessness surging in North Texas, and Dallas debating a plan to shut down a makeshift Tent City, CEO Larry James of the nonprofit CitySquare says he remains "quietly optimistic."
James was one of the speakers at an hourslong Dallas City Council hearing this week on the homeless encampment under Interstate 45 known as Tent City.
The latest count in Dallas and Collin counties shows the number of homeless people is up 24 percent since last year. In this week's KERA Friday Conversation, James talked about that surge, the language of the current debate and CitySquare's attempt to tackle part of the problem by building a complex called The Cottages at Hickory Crossing.
Interview Highlights: Larry James…
…On the spike in homeless people in Dallas and Collin counties:
“The growing divide between the haves and have-nots drives some of it. The lack of services at a system-wide level in Texas and urban centers like Dallas. The release of folks who’ve been incarcerated coming back to a city like Dallas with no ability to get a job because of their legal problems, no ability to get housing. Frankly, the refusal of the state of Texas to expand Medicaid creates a crisis for those who don’t have coverage. Lack of skills that are necessary for a changing economy; so we have a boom town here but there’s a skills gap.
"All the things that happen in life without a support system create an environment where homelessness can grow, and we have that going on now in Dallas.”
…On the city of Dallas putting portable toilets and dumpsters at Tent City:
“One of the basic problems a person who’s homeless faces every single day is ‘where do I go to the restroom?’ ‘What do I eat?’ ‘Where do I sit and rest?’ and ‘Where do I dispose of my refuse?’ This is sort of a congregation of homeless around a basic human service.
"To be critical of providing the most basic of human services and meeting the most basic of human needs is a little short-sighted and a little indicative of our problem. We need to find a way to provide those services to people, but not under bridges and tents.”
…On Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings’ effort to clear Tent City, despite his previous role as the city’s homeless czar:
“Tent City is not sustainable. It is unhealthy, it’s really a public health disaster waiting to happen and it’s not safe, so I certainly don’t begrudge the mayor for trying to make this city safer, cleaner and healthier for its residents. The mayor still cares [about the homeless] just as much as ever, maybe even more after learning about the plight of the homeless.”
…On the cottages his organization is building for the chronically homeless:
“It’s designed to provide homes for 50 of the most expensive homeless people to Dallas County; those who use Parkland the most…those who use mental health services…EMS services, jail services. They average Dallas County about $40,000 a year each. [CitySquare] is providing them the cottages - high quality housing, security, concierge services that encourage people to do what they want to do to get on the right path, mental health services for considerably less than $15,000 a person. We’re now identifying those 50 people and we hope by before the end of May to have the move-in process well underway and we’ll have 50 people off the streets and in these wonderful little homes.”