Wednesday, April 27, 2016


The "Tent City" nestled beneath the I-45 overpass here in South Dallas gives rise to all sorts of frustrations. 

The City of Dallas' humane decision to place portable toilets and trash dumpsters on the property triggered the explosive growth of the encampment.  As the community grew, rumors spread across town that case management into permanent housing happened quicker at Tent City.  So, predictably, the population grew.  And, it got organized:  streets, identified sections, an elected Mayor, at least one retail store selling basic snacks and sundries. 

But along with the normal human responses to an organized community of sorts came really negative realities:  ill-health, fights, other violence, including more than one murder, drug trafficking, prostitution, rape, theft and other compromises to public health and safety.

Here's where my litany of frustration begins:

1. The city had no real choice in the short term but to close the encampment.  And, the City is at work today doing just that.  Case workers, but not nearly enough of them, have been working for 5 or 6 weeks trying to arrange housing solutions for as many people as possible among the almost 500 who populated the encampment at its population apex.  Some people moved in with friends/family.  Some decided to go home to other cities (but very few fit that grouping).  Some opted for moving to other locations or encampments located across the city.  Some agreed to use the shelter services available.  Some found permanent supportive housing and/or single voucher assets.  Still, a large number of persons do not have a housing plan as they are forced to move from what was their community.

2.  The city does not have an adequate supply of permanent supportive housing to meet the obvious needs of the community. A large part of the problem is a lack of funds and political will to develop this much-needed housing stock.  Without the housing we are fighting a battle with one arm tied behind our collective back.

3. State funds from the Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs (TDHCA) can be used only for developments located in "high opportunity" communities.  This means that new projects cannot be located in most parts of the community by the standards established in the recent U. S. Supreme Court decision regarding the disparate impact of siting housing efforts only in low-income or low opportunity areas.  In practical terms this means that new projects will need to be located in some of the most expensive neighborhoods in the city and/or in suburban or exurban communities.  The price of land and the organized resistance from such communities make it nearly impossible to use TDHCA tax credit funds as we've done in the past. 

4. Routinely, landlords and property owners refuse to accept housing vouchers and funds from our local Continuum of Care, both U. S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to pay rents.  "Source of payment" discrimination is normative. These days a very hot housing market allows property management more options for leasing, with the net result being that the very poor get kicked out and left out of housing in favor of a "better, less troubling clientele."

5. The basic duplicity of our community response is maddening.  On the one hand we all care about homelessness in general, right?  On the other, we resist its arrival if in our neighborhoods. We organize not in favor of its development, but to oppose it.

6. The silence of both communities of faith and of political groups in face of this pressing human tragedy remains as unsettling as it is frustrating. 

What will we do, Dallas, what will we do?

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