Solving homelessness in the city of Fort Worth will require a multifaceted approach.
That’s the message city officials and community partners shared with over 100 residents during a community forum on June 27 at the Ridglea Theatre.
Moderated by Council member Michael Crain, panelists included Robert Alldredge, deputy police chief; Lauren King, executive director of the Tarrant County Homeless Coalition; Jim Davis, fire chief; Tara Perez, Directions Home manager at the city of Fort Worth; and Debbi Rabalis, vice president of program services for Presbyterian Night Shelter.
“We’re not gonna solve (homelessness) tonight. This is a crisis that’s been happening for a long period of time,” Crain said. “We don’t want to turn into the next San Francisco or Austin… so what are we doing to really be humane about it at the same time making sure we are doing what we can to keep the city clean and safe.”
Panelists discussed the many myths surrounding the homeless population, including that all of them are panhandlers, commit violent crimes or are homeless for long periods of time.
Fort Worth police know panhandling can be an issue for residents citywide, Alldredge said. The city has a panhandling ordinance, but the deputy police chief encouraged residents to report panhandlers when they see them, either through the MyFW app or by calling the police’s non-emergency number: 817-392-4222.
As for tackling homeless camps across Fort Worth, the city’s police and fire departments in collaboration with some mental service organizations created the Homeless Outreach Program and Enforcement unit. They are tasked with connecting people with resources to get off the streets.
“The fact of the matter is, it’s a community problem and a community problem requires a community solution,” Davis said.
While the city and its partners have a boots-on-the-ground approach to homelessness, the long-term solution is to invest in affordable housing. Perez said the city is short 32,000 affordable housing units and even those who have housing assistance have trouble finding a home.
“There has to be a long-term solution. If not, then what we’re doing is just shifting the problem around,” Perez said.
Most recently, the city invested $20 million in American Rescue Plan Act money toward the construction of more affordable housing.
To address the need for more affordable housing, the city and its partners have been focused on a housing-first approach, rather than having housing being the last step. That means also providing those experiencing homelessness with job opportunities and access to other resources they need to get back on their feet.
“We believe that getting out of homelessness takes three things,” Rabalis said. “One is shelter. The second is income. And the third is housing.”
Sandra Sadek is a Report for America corps member, covering growth for the Fort Worth Report. You can contact her at email@example.com or on Twitter at @ssadek19.
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