Recently, I had an appointment near the downtown library and decided to park in the library’s underground garage (a cool car in August!) and walk to my meeting down the street.
Little did I realize that I was about to become a one-person focus group. The subject: Homeless people downtown.
A Dallas security guard is posted at the library’s underground elevator bank, just beyond metal detectors. You can’t feel much more secure than that. But as I headed to street level, I was reminded that the greatest security threat at the J. Erik Jonsson Central library probably isn’t a terrorist attack. It’s deciding whether to get on an elevator when the only other passenger looks like he spent an uncomfortable night on the street.
It was very obvious that the library bosses have done what they can to allay concerns from library patrons. The main lobby was staffed by several well-positioned and alert security guards each time I came and went over a three-day period.
But getting from the library to Young Street invariably involved walking past a dozen or so hot and very dirty people. It was, I’ll admit, a tad uncomfortable and I was self-conscious as most of them eyed me when I went by. But that’s it. It was completely uneventful.
I mention this now because I guess that’s the calculation that each of us must make when we decide whether the Dallas City Council is taking the right approach in its ridiculously long attempt to find a site for a new resource center for homeless people.
As you may know, a major sticking point has been whether or not the new facility should be located in downtown, or near it.
Lake Highlands councilman Bill Blaydes, who chairs the economic development and housing committee, has been called the strongest critic of locating the new facility downtown, saying it would hurt revitalization.
I’d agree that having homeless people downtown doesn’t help economic development. But personally, I question how much it hurts, despite a now-dated survey purporting to measure the impact.
Homeless people aren’t unique to Dallas. It’s not like we’re going to lose out on hosting some big convention because conventioneers went to a city where there are no homeless people. (If there is such a city, that’s the one we should be studying.)
The bottom line is that cities such as Dallas have to juggle multiple obligations all the time. At what point do we accept our obligation to the estimated 6,000 residents, many of them women and children, who spend hot summer nights sleeping on the parking lot at the current resource center – if they are lucky?
Two years ago, voters approved $3 million in bond money for a new center – a figure that city officials now say is not nearly enough. I think it’s appalling that virtually nothing has been done since voters approved that money. It’s time for the City Council to stop dithering and build the center downtown.