Cody at Stewpot

Cody, a junior political science major, received a public service internship award from the Maguire Center for Ethics and Public Responsibility this summer. She will be working with the Stewpot in downtown Dallas. She plans to attend several City Council meetings and to learn about the public policy of homelessness and how it is changing in Dallas, with the opening of the new and nontraditional Bridge Homeless Assistance Center. She hopes to help the Stewpot understand the attitude of the city toward the homeless population and the reflections of that attitude in city policy.

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Appearances and homelessness

I visited the Bridge Homeless Assistance Center last week for a meeting with the chief executive officer of Metro Dallas Homeless Alliance (MDHA). MDHA manages the Bridge and is the “regional authority” on homelessness. At least that is what I am told each time I contact the city with a question about its policy toward the homeless. Anyhow, I visited the Bridge, which was interesting but not quite satisfying as the chief executive officer wasn’t there. His secretary promised to call to reschedule (again) but I have yet to hear from her. However, I realize that he is incredibly busy.

Visiting the Bridge, I stood in line at a side entrance (I am not sure if it is the only entrance) with a handful of apparently homeless people. The security person was checking inside everyone’s bags and using a wand to swipe people, but he did not follow any of these steps with me. On a similar note, I was out of town for the opening of the Bridge, but I was told that security was checking homeless people based on appearances, letting some people through and making others wait in line. However, I must add that another person who was present said that wasn’t true. Nonetheless, I think it is worth noting that apparently some people do not need to be checked at security based on appearances.

The Bridge was remarkably calm. When told that the MDHA chief wasn’t able to meet with me, I even used the library computers to check my email to pass time before heading to my next appointment. I did note, however, that a large number of people were lined up waiting for lunch, so this might have attributed to the tranquil atmosphere.

Chronic homelessness

I was able to speak with my supervisor at the Stewpot about the way that we are dealing with homelessness as a nation/state/city. At all levels, we focus on chronic homelessness, as explained in my previous post. The reasoning is that these are the people who need help the most (see definitions below). So focusing on the chronically homeless is supposed to be the compassionate way to go. It can also be framed as the most logical way to deal with homelessness from a financial aspect.

The chronically homeless place a larger burden on services that are funded by taxpayers – they frequent the ER, for example, because they often have health problem and are homeless for long and/or recurring amounts of time.

Temporarily homeless - persons who experience only one spell of homelessness, usually short, and who are not seen again by the homeless assistance system;

Episodically homeless – those who use the system with intermittent frequency, but usually for short periods; and

Chronically homeless – those with a protracted homeless experience, often a year or longer, or whose spells in the homeless assistance system are both frequent and long. Problems associated with chronic homelessness include disability, heavy use of services (homeless assistance system, health and social services), engagement with treatments (that have not helped), and multiple problems.

This information taken from U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

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