The importance of tackling the persistent problem of homelessness in Fort Worth is not lost on the City Council.
But reaching agreement on solutions to the problem is another story.
How best to fight chronic homelessness (the condition of being continuously homeless for at least a year, or homeless at least four times in the past three years) was the topic of a sometimes uncomfortable meeting Wednesday between the council and the city’s Advisory Commission on Ending Homelessness.
Commission members expressed frustration over the city’s failure to meet the needs of this underserved population, which according to the 2014 Point in Time Count has ballooned — up about 60 percent in the county since last year.
They say the city needs to spend an additional $6 million every year through 2018 if it intends to end chronic homeless.
That’s over and above the $2.5 million the commission says the city will spend this year in support of the homeless plan it adopted in 2008.
The plan, Directions Home, aims to make homelessness “rare, short-term and nonrecurring” in 10 years’ time, and focuses its efforts on finding “permanent supportive housing” for homeless individuals.
Such lofty goals require a hefty up-front expenditure. But Otis Thornton, the city’s homelessness program director, says it’s one that will have a “net positive return on investment for taxpayers.”
Thornton pointed to data showing a 36 percent reduction in use of public services, such as public hospitals and law enforcement, by once chronically homeless individuals who achieved permanent housing.
That’s compelling data. But finding an extra $6 million each year given Fort Worth’s competing budget priorities will take a herculean effort.
To that end, Mayor Betsy Price agreed to form a committee, similar to the arts funding task force, that will be charged with finding money from both public and private sources.
But it will take more than dollars and a new bureaucratic body to solve a complex problem — stemming from ills such as domestic violence, mental illness and chronic unemployment — that begs for creative, holistic solutions.
When the committee produces its findings in six months, let’s hope that in addition to new funding sources, it will present some cost-effective ideas for combating chronic homelessness as well.