An open letter to the City of Dallas: “Let’s do better with Dallas’ most vulnerable.”

This is an email I sent to the Mayor of Dallas this morning, in its entirety.

Good Sunday to all.

First, I’d like to thank each and every one of you for the hard work and diligence you bring to your positions. It takes a special individual to serve the public, and for that my sincerest thank you.

On to the matter at hand: Dallas’ homeless continuum of care. Please take a moment to read the CC list on this email. Most letters and emails I’ve seen go directly to city leadership. I felt it important to include those involved in this issue as well. After all, any solutions must account for everyone involved. In fact, if someone isn’t on that list that should be, please forward it to them.

Three years ago, the homeless situation in Dallas was a passive experience. I encountered it when I made the commute in from Flower Mound to work in the burgeoning startup community in downtown Dallas. Like most suburbanites, it was also something that disappeared on the commute home. It was easy to retreat to the confines of the idealistic comfort of suburban seclusion. Many on our council, and in the continuum of care understand this phenomenon intimately.

Heather, Z, and I decided to make a major life change, exchanging the two hour per day commute for convenience, neighborhood, and community. We committed to becoming urbanites, and all that entails. We haven’t driven since July, and use public transportation for nearly every trip. This includes the #2 bus, the #35, #26, and both blue and red DART lines. It includes a four lane road, passing just 30’ from our front door, and master bedroom window. This is city living, and we’re all in. All in.

In fact, just months after moving to The Cedars, the neighborhood had enough confidence in me, and the urban vision we share, to elect me to the role of President of the Cedars Neighborhood Association. This is an honor, and it continues to be in my second term.

In this new role, and in the new surroundings, I had to make a quick study of the history of the neighborhood in detail, its physical location – sitting just south of the city, and all of the nuance and meaning therein. Yes, we have growing pains, and see the things a neighborhood should hope to contend with in time – attention, construction, zoning change requests, developer/resident conflict, and of course interacting with the city directly to make sure our neighbor’s voices are heard. And clearly.

But one issue stands apart, unique to The Cedars and other adjacent southern neighborhoods. We have a significantly higher concentration of services for the Homeless than any other area in the city of Dallas. Do not mistake this fact as a complaint. It’s important for everyone to understand the difference.

I studied, I attended meetings, I got to know dozens in the homeless continuum of care – some more than others. Churches, shelters, the City, and individuals that had taken it upon themselves to help. In fact, some of the most enlightening conversations were the homeless people themselves, and what’s missing and could be improved.

One thing is clear to me after just over two years of going deep and fast on this issue. The passion each person feels for their role is palpable, and every single person feels they’re doing absolutely the right thing, as well as they can given the circumstances (especially the funding) surrounding their mission.

The fact of the matter, understand that I have no direct association with any of the organizations involved, is that this system is confused, fractured, and in no way cooperates to achieve measurable and attainable coordinated goals. There are conversations, meetings, and rest assured, plenty of talk, and press. But each organization in private acts as if it’s every person for themselves, with more funding as ultimate goal. Of course it’s to do better work.

I find it perplexing that more funding is the goal, to do more of the same. I believe the goal of our continuum of care should be to help every human being achieve as much independence from the system as possible, not to continue, and certainly not to increase dependence.

How do we do this most efficiently? I think it’s by recognizing that the current approach isn’t as effective as it needs to be. This isn’t directed at any specific interest, but it’s a broader recognition that we can, and must, do better. Together, as a city.

A Commission on Homelessness was conceived and executed, with a report and recommendation that was – if I may be frank, embarrassing as a resident of the City of Dallas. It showed no innovation, it showed nothing that spurs excitement, and it certainly isn’t going to motivate our citizens to join in and bring even better solutions to the table. It reeks of cronyism.

It shows the same thing that’s been presented over the years… more funding for the same, ineffective, immeasurable, and unaccountable “system.” More money for housing, more maintenance. Alternate proposals were cast aside, or never seriously considered. Those on the commission had no interest in disrupting the current system.

Let’s consider something new… let’s create a new city position – responsible for managing expectations, press, coordinating the city’s investments in the continuum of care, and holding those investments accountable for achieving their stated goals. This position isn’t in addition to another role, or a secondary or tertiary responsibility. It’s 100% dedicated to accountability in the continuum of care. No goals met, no more funding. One person, one goal.

In addition, and of course, I fully support the formation of a Citizen’s Commission on Homelessness. This commission should have 100% transparency, and should be accountable only to the city. No person on the commission should benefit directly from decisions made by the commission (no board members or operators from the existing system of care), no conflicts. Should such a situation arise, those individuals should behave accordingly and recuse themselves from voting/participation. Every other commission works this way.

I was thrilled to see Mr. Medrano’s comment on this particular thread as it shows leadership and a willingness to try something new. To each of you involved in this project in Dallas, thank you. I’ll note, for the record, that this solution has nothing to do with Housing First, yet it has the potential to motivate and instill confidence in city leadership, and it will help its participants regain dignity.

This isn’t the end, however. Our citizens are growing impatient, and are looking to all of you for leadership. Please form the Citizen’s Commission on Homelessness as proof that you’re in this for the citizens and for the future of our city. Not the status quo.

Be the leaders we need. We’re counting on you.

Thank you.

Michael Sitarzewski.
City of Dallas Resident.

CC: Michael Rawlings, Philip Kingston, Adam Medrano, Scott Griggs, Tiffinni Young, Mark Clayton, Rick Callahan, Monica Alonzo, Erik Wilson, Casey Thomas, Carolyn King Arnold, Adam McGough, Lee Kleinman, Sandy Greyson, Jennifer Gates, Scott Goldstein, Vana Hammond, Sam Merten, Jay Dunn, Cindy Crain, Daniel Roby, Wayne Walker, Larry James, Dianne Gibson, Britton Banowsky, Jim Garner, Ron Stretcher Dominique Collins, Bernadette Mitchell

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michael

Husband, father, epic adventurer, perpetually curious, rule breaker, startup guy, innovator, maker.

5 opinions on “An open letter to the City of Dallas: “Let’s do better with Dallas’ most vulnerable.””

  1. Thank you for your continued commitment to this issue. Thank you for staying engaged and continuing to participate in the homeless discussion. We need more community and city leaders willing to publicly discuss the unpopular. Accountability, Transparency and Fiscal Responsibility Matter. Quality of life matters….for everyone involved. Appreciate you! – Tanya

    1. Just to be clear Dusty, this is what you’re referencing as a problem attitude? “Accountability, Transparency and Fiscal Responsibility Matter. Quality of life matters….for everyone involved.”

  2. I think you bring up very valid arguments with very good sound reasoning to back up your conclusion. I will also say this from my personal point of view it is often refreshing to have people outside of the homeless community involved to think outside the box.

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