Dallas official says city making progress in dealing with hundreds of homeless encampments

The city of Dallas is struggling to get a handle on homeless camps, which increased dramatically after the pandemic resulted in Dallas pausing removals.

The city is dealing with a backlog of more than 400 open complaints.

As of the most recent count, the city said there are an estimated 400 encampments in the city and the city has only closed nine of them. 

But the director of Dallas’ Office of Homeless Solutions, Christine Crossley, said progress is being made. 

After the CDC told cities to not close down homeless encampments during the COVID-19 crisis, the number in Dallas multiplied. 

"And then, of course, you add inflation and housing affordability stock, which is basically none, it can feel like an uphill battle," Crossley explained.

The city received hundreds of complaints from residents in the past 30 days. A total of 712, with 400 complaints still open. 

Crossley said the city is making progress.

"We've housed, when I looked at it two days ago, 971 people, since the DRTRR started. That is a huge amount, that is historic for Dallas," she said.

Crossley said resolving a complaint can take time. First, the city has to find alternative housing. 

"When there is an encampment behind a house, we've gone out and walked the property line, and there is a real follow up from our staff," she explained.

When it's a matter of public safety, the city moves more quickly. 

"At Alpha and Hillcrest, where we had confirmed sightings of people with weapons. Not just a machete, but coming out onto the trail head with an axe," Crossley said.

That encampment was cleared without re-housing.

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"There is this tension you live with, because we don't live in a perfect world," Crossley said.

[REPORTER: "Is there space in shelters?] "I would say no. Historically, we know that shelter space is at a premium," Crossley responded.

Daniel Roby, CEO of Austin Street Center, said they just opened a new facility, nearly doubling its capacity from 250 beds to 400, but they are already full. 

"Opened literally 30 days ago, the 21st of June. In that time, literally from the days the doors were opened, we were full again," Roby explained. "The majority of people are willing and wanting to access shelter."

Sanitation is another challenge.

The city has a pilot program with portable toilets for the homeless outside the library and at encampments.

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But keeping the locations serviced isn't easy. One vendor backed out for safety concerns. 

Roby said the city should work to fund permanent public restroom facilities. 

"You can't both complain about public urination and not provide an alternative option," he said.

Crossley said the city's pilot program is improving conditions. 

"We've had a reduction in public human waste, people have been using them. I know for patrons, both homeless and not, it’s been a lot better," she said.

Crossley said the city will be working with shelters to locate more space, possibly in hotels. 

The Austin Street Center said, with private or public funding, it could expand its capacity by 100 more beds.