DALLAS — Orderly lines of small homes in the shadow of Interstate 30 in Dallas are a sign that Texas is embracing a national trend of giving the homeless permanent, subsidized housing and augmenting it with support services.
Dallas officials this month unveiled the first of what’s expected to be 50 tiny homes that will shelter the city’s most chronically homeless. The $6.8 million project is seen as a fresh approach to reducing the number of homeless people in the city and a departure from the tent cities that sprout underneath highway overpasses.
These projects often generate heavy criticism from nearby homeowners and businesses, but the Dallas homes — quaintly named Cottages at Hickory Crossing — are bounded by interstates and have few neighbors.
The development is in keeping with a philosophy gaining ground nationally of providing the homeless with permanent housing and offering them social, medical and other services, or so-called wrap-around support. The approach replaces the longstanding model of shepherding the homeless to shelters and then transitional housing in the hope they find permanent options from there.
“We’re solving a problem for people who are homeless today, but it’s having a ripple effect on the way we fund and on our policies across the state,” said Mandy Chapman Semple, who heads homeless initiatives for Houston as a special assistant to the mayor.
The revamped approach to housing, along with other factors such as a greater push to help homeless veterans, has proven effective. There were some 647,200 homeless in the U.S. in 2007, and that number fell to about 564,700 last year, according to the National Alliance to End Homelessness, which bases its annual report largely on numbers provided by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
From 2010 to 2015 the number of homeless in Houston dropped by more than 25 percent, according to a Houston Chronicle report. Semple said the decline was largely driven by “permanent supportive housing” — part of a “Housing First” strategy — coupled with case managers who helped ensure people received the behavioral health and other care they needed.
Texas was slower than some coastal cities such as Boston and San Francisco to embrace this approach, but cities in the state have shown they could promptly drive down the number of homeless once they did, Semple said.
Larry James, CEO of CitySquare, the nonprofit behind the Cottages project in Dallas, said city officials know by name the 300 homeless people who place the greatest burden — and cost — on social services. The small homes near I-30 will go to 50 of them, along with the treatment needed to address addiction, behavioral disorders or other afflictions.
But James said there are obstacles to providing the number of homes or apartments that are needed, such as limited public dollars and a state tax credit program that’s not attractive enough to developers. And then there are the neighbors.
“One of the biggest challenges we face is where do we put these things?” James said. “What neighborhood is going to take them?”
A man moving into one of the Dallas homes said he was grateful to start a new chapter in his life following bouts with drug and alcohol addiction.
“It’s going to be a totally new beginning for me,” Randall Daniels told The Dallas Morning News. “It makes me feel like a man again.”
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