Monday, November 14, 2005

Downtown Dallas & Uptown Real Estate News

Downtown Dallas & Uptown Real Estate News
Downtown homeless center plan passes easily

Battle over shelter site will continue, foes say

12:30 AM CST on Wednesday, November 9, 2005

By KIM HORNER / The Dallas Morning News

Dallas voters on Tuesday easily approved a $23.8 million downtown center to help the city's growing homeless population despite a fierce campaign to defeat the project.

"Dallas has got a heart and is going to do the right thing by the homeless," Dallas homeless czar Mike Rawlings said. "We've got to deal with this issue downtown. It's a serious issue, and I think everybody recognizes it."

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But Tuesday's vote probably will not end the fight over the project's location. While the City Council has approved a site in the southeastern part of downtown, opponents said they plan to continue advocating for something outside the downtown loop. They say that location will kill revitalization plans.

Mayor Laura Miller said she was thrilled with the outcome, adding that the city will immediately begin work on the plan.

"After three years of analyzing this issue, we feel strongly this is the solution," she said. "We are off and running."

Others on the council were less enthused and took a more tentative approach.

"I'm going to be pushing for a location change," City Council member Bill Blaydes said. "My fight has not been against the homeless assistance center, it has been against the location and the fact we don't have it [the center] planned out."

The bond proposition did not specify a location for the homeless assistance center. Ms. Miller said the city studied the issue for three years and found the approved site to be the best one.

"The only other feasible site, across the freeway from the preferred location, has strong opposition from Old City Park and the Cedars neighborhood. I support the existing site," she said.

The new assistance center will be the largest public project to address homelessness in the city's history. Mr. Rawlings said the facility will be the first step toward solving Dallas' homelessness problem, which has grown to an estimated 6,000 people in shelters and on the streets. Experts believe those numbers will continue to grow, especially as hurricane evacuees now in the area run out of assistance.

The bond measure, Proposition 14, faced strong opposition from The Heart of Dallas Partnership, a group of downtown business owners. Larry Hamilton, a developer who led the political action committee, said he was disappointed at the election's outcome, adding that his group will continue to seek an alternative site.

"I'm amazed at the turnout. We gave it a good shot," he said.

Mr. Hamilton said his group faced a challenge getting its message out because many people are compassionate and inclined to vote for something they think will help the homeless.

The Heart of Dallas Partnership raised more than $160,000 to defeat the bond measure and sent out several mailers, used automated phone calls and posted signs throughout the city.

The project's supporters led a quiet campaign by comparison, with just one mailer and fewer political signs. Separate from the homeless czar's campaign, homeless people rallied downtown Monday to support the project. Mr. Rawlings said the well-funded opposition campaign put a dent in support for the project.

Despite the vigorous opposition, it is difficult to fight a ballot measure in such a low-turnout race, said Cal Jillson, political science professor at Southern Methodist University. Voters appeared to support the city's message that the project would help, rather than hurt, downtown by giving police a place to take homeless people instead of jail.

"If you think about the issue of downtown, there does seem to be some momentum," Dr. Jillson said. "The homeless presence has to be dealt with, and I think people took this to be a positive way to begin."

Dallas plans to build a 24-hour center that will provide shelter, restrooms, showers, job training, mental health treatment and an outdoor pavilion for those who refuse to go inside area shelters. The goal is to give homeless people a place to go instead of the streets, where they draw complaints from businesses for sleeping, loitering or urinating in public. The plan also includes funds for single-room-occupancy apartments.

The new facility would replace the city's nearby overcrowded and inadequate Day Resource Center. Voters approved $3 million for the facility in a 2003 bond election, but that was not nearly enough to build a center.

The homeless assistance center is part of a 10-year plan the city adopted last year to end chronic homelessness. The city has at least 1,000 people considered to be chronic homeless ? those who have mental illnesses or addictions and have been on the streets for years ? the most visible homeless people on the streets who often refuse to use shelters.

The decision thrilled homeless advocates, who have pressed for years for more programs to address homelessness.

"When the center opens, it is going to immediately provide a new entry to services in this community," said Cindy Honey, executive director of the Metro Dallas Homeless Alliance. "No longer will people who are homeless have to struggle to find the place that will serve them. There won't be any question about where they can go."

Staff writer Emily Ramshaw contributed to this report.