August 10, 2014

Editorial: Fort Worth refocuses on its homeless

Task force report to the City Council is thorough and has recommendations that command attention.

Homelessness in Fort Worth is a large and complex problem. We know that, and we’ve known it for a long time.

It’s expensive to combat homelessness. We know that, but we also know that it costs even more, in terms of lost opportunities and diminished quality of life, but also in hard dollars, not to combat it.

The Fort Worth City Council has faced these complexities and costs for years. In 2008, the city decided to do something about the problem by spearheading development of the Directions Home program, with the stated goal “to make homelessness rare, short-term and nonrecurring in greater Fort Worth by 2018.”

One part of Directions Home was an immediate success: Many people worked hard to launch the program, and they were infused with determination to make it succeed.

But time brings change. People change. Priorities shift. Pressures build to solve other problems.

The zeal behind Directions Home has faded a little, but there is new evidence that it still burns strong.

Earlier this year the City Council recognized the need — or maybe bended to behind-the-scenes pressure — for a rebirth of emphasis, a revisiting of goals and a replanning of methods used to fight homelessness.

On April 15, the council created the ad hoc Task Force on Homelessness. Whether it was planned this way or not, the 10 members of the task force clearly turned out to be a determined bunch. The task force delivered its final report to the council Tuesday.

The council gave the task force five specific assignments for reviewing the organizations that provide services to the homeless in Fort Worth, how they are funded, how efficiently and effectively they use their funding, how communications and collaboration between those organizations can be improved and how the funding and delivery of services can be streamlined.

In other words, make sure this effort is working as well as it can.

No problem. The task force learned that about 5,200 people will be homeless in this community this year, about 2,400 at any given time.

The groups that work to help them are on a continuous search for funding, but they are coordinated to a great degree in Tarrant and Parker counties under a federal plan called Continuum of Care. There’s a local Continuum of Care board.

That model works because the board determines which proposals will compete for federal funding, which amounts to more than $12 million locally for the coming year.

A key task force finding: “Fort Worth area agencies work together to achieve a great deal with scarce resources.”

And another: “While housing is only one component of the service delivery system, the inadequate supply of affordable housing creates the greatest inefficiency in that system.”

Then the task force turned its attention to telling the City Council — respectfully, of course — what the city should do:

• Update the Directions Home plan to reflect changes in services, demand, legislation, housing availability and other factors since 2008.
• Put together an education plan to “encourage volunteerism, donations and advocacy.”
• Participate more extensively in the activities and governance of the Continuum of Care.

And finally, you had to expect:

• Increase city funding for housing placement, rental assistance and housing assistance services.

City funding was $3.1 million in 2010 but has slipped since then, amounting to $2.5 million this year. The task force asked for $3 million in the 2015 budget that is expected to face a council vote next month.

The task force also asked the council to appoint a new body to work on “the creation of 600 units of permanent supportive housing dispersed throughout Fort Worth and Tarrant County by 2018.”

The task force wants members of the City Council to be part of that new body.

Those are pretty bold suggestions. But if they wanted anything less, council members should have appointed only shy people to the task force.

What to do next is in the council’s hands. The best choice is to rededicate the city to the Directions Home goal by agreeing to what the task force has to say.

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