Dallas Leverages COVID-19 Pandemic To Address Long-Term Homelessness

Federal relief dollars are being used to buy and renovate hotels.

By Bret JaspersDecember 8, 2020 1:08 pm, , , , ,

From KERA:

Since 2015, Kevin Stuart has been experiencing homeless. He’s tried to get long term housing, but it hasn’t been easy.

“It’s been a process, one in which I can understand why one would throw up his hands and, you know, just move on to something else,” he said.

Stuart said he sleeps most nights outside in a tent, but needs back surgery and a place to recover.

Kevin Stuart has been experiencing homelessness since 2015.

“Once I have that surgery, then I can go on with the rest of my life, whatever that will be,” he said.

There are many people in the City of Dallas experiencing homelessness. The last point-in-time homeless count showed over 1,200 people slept out on the street or in their cars, and others stayed in short term homeless shelters. Then came the pandemic, raising the specter of even more people losing their homes.

But the virus has presented an opportunity as well. Dallas City and County are using federal COVID-19 relief money to also address long-term homelessness.

The New St. Jude Center

The project is a repurposed hotel, operated by Catholic Charities Dallas.

The former Gateway Hotel near the intersection of I-635 and Central Expressway in North Dallas is now called St. Jude Center — Park Central. The first guests will be people who need to quarantine due to COVID.

The site is slated to open to virus-affected guests on Dec. 14.

“We’ll set them up in a room and make sure they have the appropriate needs for their quarantine period, which could last anywhere from seven to 14 days. Possibly longer,” said David Woodyard, CEO of Catholic Charities Dallas.

How long the coronavirus portion of the project will last is anyone’s guess.

“[Until] COVID goes away,” he said. “You tell us when that is.”

The non-profit Catholic Housing Initiative (CHI) owns the building, and will begin renovations to make the site suitable for the next phase: transitional and long term housing for people experiencing protracted homelessness.

Eventually, at least 180 of St. Jude Center Park Central’s rooms will be dedicated to that kind of housing, and guests can stay for many months if needed. The ultimate goal is for them to receive services and become independent. Catholic Charities Dallas and CHI have had success with an earlier project just for seniors, St. Jude Center — Forest.

A hotel room with couch, bed, lamp and small table

At least 180 rooms at the Gateway Hotel will eventually be occupied. While the site is used for coronavirus quarantining, Catholic Housing Initiative will install kitchens in each room.

A ‘Win-Win’

Money to buy and operate this new site came from Dallas County and the City of Dallas. The County applied $10 million of its federal Coronavirus Relief Funds towards the purchase and renovation, and the City spent $2 million from its allocation. The City may spend up to $3 million more on renovations, which would come from a 2017 voter-approved bond package for this kind of housing.

“The county and city were wise enough to see the opportunity to really kill two birds with one stone, if you will, by seeing this as an opportunity to respond to the COVID problem but make sure that it had long lasting benefit to the community,” Woodyard said.

Kevin Oden, interim director of the Office of Homeless Solutions at the City of Dallas, called the project a “win-win beyond all belief.”

He thinks every council district should have a housing site similar to St. Jude’s.

“We need this all over the city in various forms in various fashions to serve various and very diverse populations,” he said.

Now, Oden is bracing for the end of the year, when the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s moratorium on evictions expires. He said when that happens, well over 10,000 more people could need housing or homeless services.

Dallas City Council is set to vote on another hotel project at Wednesday’s meeting. Other cities like Fort Worth, Austin and San Diego are making similar purchases. So are the states of California and Oregon, where a decline in travel led to more hotel owners being willing to sell.

A variety of partner organizations serve as the entry-point for chronically homeless residents to get on a waiting list maintained by the Metropolitan Dallas Homeless Alliance. From there, residents might secure a spot at St. Jude’s Center — Park Central.

The Christian homeless services organization OurCalling is one of those organizations. CEO Pastor Wayne Walker said the St. Jude project is a step in the right direction, but that the area is already starting from a huge deficit.

“We need thousands of new beds in Dallas immediately,” he said. “We have a very minimal supported housing and even shelter space compared to other cities our size.”

Kevin Stuart, who’s been trying to get housing for about five years, is frustrated with what he considers an overly-complicated process.

“I need a hand. Just a hand. And I can pull myself back up,” he said. “But until I can deal with this back situation, you know, I’m in this position.”

He is happy more long-term housing will be available for people like him, but said he isn’t counting on securing one of the rooms.

Got a tip? Email Bret Jaspers at bjaspers@kera.org. You can follow Bret on Twitter @bretjaspers.

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