City of Dallas focuses on individuals to battle chronic homelessness

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by DAVID SCHECHTER

Bio | Email | Follow: @davidschechter

WFAA

Posted on April 30, 2010 at 10:00 PM

Updated Friday, Apr 30 at 3:26 PM

DALLAS - Many people think spending more time and money caring for the homeless in Dallas County is the same as throwing money away.

But, what if focusing on just a few could actually cut the cost of the overall problem? It may be hard to believe, but in the City of Dallas, it may be working.

"We do know that there are chronically mentally ill persons at the location," said Winford Cross, with the Dallas Crisis Intervention, while driving the streets of North Texas.

Cross travels in a ratty, old passenger van. His caring nature is needed, helping the nearly 6,000 homeless people moving in and out of shelters in the Dallas area. However, his real job is finding those that don't usually show up at the shelters' doors.

"It's my job to go out and find those persons that you don't see," Cross said.

Cross searches for people like 37-year old Casey O'Daniel. She was recently found living in a sprawling creek bed encampment off Harry Hines Boulevard. Once a fast food restaurant manager, she's unable to manage her schizophrenia and is addiction to crack cocaine.

O'Daniel said she made 20 to 25 visits to Parkland Hospital last year.

"Or maybe 30, I can't count really," she said.

That is possibly 30 visits from just one single homeless person, which could cost taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars. In fact, studies show 10 percent of the hardcore homeless, like O'Daniel, consume 80 percent of emergency resources.

Parkland CEO Ron Anderson said his organization spends $14 million a year treating the homeless. At one point, he said, one particular homeless man was costing the hospital $600,000 a year.

"Sometimes, it just does not make sense to have a hospital be the answer when the real problem is housing," he said. "It's nutrition; it's alcohol and drug abuse that would be where the money would be better spent."

Cross brought O'Daniel to The Bridge Homeless Assistance Center, where Tammy Lacy became her care manager.

"I will work one-on-one with Casey," Lacy said. "I will guide her through whatever she needs. As long as she gives herself a chance, she can be where Virgil is in six months."

Until recently, Virgil Wyatt faced 44 outstanding homeless-related arrest warrants, like sleeping on the street. He's working them off through community service at The Bridge.

"I'm so proud of Virgil," Lacy said.

After 11 years without a home, Virgil - who is bi-polar - is about to move into a supervised apartment.

"This is a man that had no reason to live," Lacy said. "This is a man, today, that has every reason to live."

"It's very exciting," Wyatt said.

The city says stabilizing people, like Wyatt, cuts costs and is much better for the chronically homeless. A recent survey shows the number of chronically homeless in Dallas County is down 14 percent.

O'Daniel, however, was not one of those cases. While WFAA was still at the center, O'Daniel vanished.

"She got on Bus 35," Cross said. "She's gone now to a place, I don't know exactly where she's going to."

O'Daniel may or may not make the same kind of progress that Wyatt made.

"If she's sleeping back at that location where I got her, I'll get her," Cross said. "Now I know how to approach her from a different standpoint."

But, for financial and moral reasons, it's Cross' job not to give up on her.

E-mail: dschechter@wfaa.com

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