Dallas ordinance doesn’t help homelessness

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    Photo by sdilullo on Fiickr

    One can’t heal an open wound with a small bandage. Nor can you expect to cure homelessness in four downtown Dallas areas with a city ordinance.

    A new city ordinance bans panhandling, or aggressive begging, in areas across downtown Dallas, making it virtually impossible for the homeless to ask for assistance of any kind. These areas include the business district, Deep Ellum, Uptown and Victory Park. Violators will be fined up to $500 for soliciting money or help.

    While the city claims this new ordinance has nothing to do with the upcoming Super Bowl XLV, one must question the truth behind that comment.

    It is less than a month away from the event, and the four areas in question encompass the majority of the hotel and tourist industries. How could this ordinance not have something to do with the Super Bowl? That doesn’t make the ordinance a quick cover up though. It’s the perfect catalyst to get the ball moving and ending homelessness in Dallas.

    Homelessness is nothing new to Dallas. The Metro Dallas Homeless Alliance has a 10-year plan underway that seeks to end homelessness in the Dallas area by 2014.

    In an article published by The Dallas Morning News, “chronic” homelessness has decreased by 56 percent since 2004. According to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, a chronically homeless person is described as “an unaccompanied, disabled individual who has been continuously homeless for over one year.”

    Recent counts by the MDHA state that homelessness in Dallas County has increased 1 percent from 2009 to 2010, making the total number of homeless individuals around 5,750. Of that number, there were 1,850 people who experienced homelessness for the first time in 2009. The MDHA reports also show a 5 percent increase in the number of veterans experiencing homelessness.

    The new city ordinance is an attempt to decrease the amount of panhandlers so that incoming visitors will be able to enjoy the city without the inconvenience of the homeless. The ordinance may be just another step to aiding the city in the fight to end homelessness, and it may be just what the city needs.

    The ordinance itself, though, isn’t perfect. Issuing fines to people who don’t have any money doesn’t seem logical, but there must be some consequences for breaking the law. Bans against panhandling aren’t anything new, either. It is already illegal to panhandle at night, by ATMs, along streets and by parking meters in Dallas.

    The sense of awareness the ordinance raises comes at a perfect time. There are three years left in the MDHA’s plan. That means there are a little more than 1,000 days to get more than 5,000 people off the streets and into permanent housing. This is no small feat, especially with today’s economy.

    To complete the MDHA’s plan, there needs to be an increase in affordable housing as well as permanent housing with assistance for the 45 percent of the homeless with a reported mental illness or disability. The No. 1 one cause of homelessness in the Dallas area is unemployment. If the homeless could be trained in specific skill sets, they may be able to secure jobs.

    The ordinance would do well to expand to all areas of the Dallas area and even Fort Worth. Let’s be clear: panhandling is not merely asking for help, it’s asking people for help in an aggressive or violent manner. This kind of behavior does not endear the homeless to anyone but validates the negative stereotype. These people need help, but not at the expense of one’s safety.

    The Dallas City Council can say the ordinance has nothing to do with the Super Bowl, and it may not. Even if it doesn’t, it is just another step in the journey to ridding our area of the problem of homelessness.

    Bailey McGowan is a sophomore broadcast journalism major from Burkburnett.