Potemkin Village: Signs Urge Dallas to Keep the Homeless in its Heart. What Heart?

Categories: Get Off My Lawn

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As a community, we get horrible leadership from City Hall. Terrible. City Hall brings out the worst in us.

On Monday, Building Community Workshop (called bcWORKSHOP), a housing advocacy group, began installing plywood silhouette figures of homeless people around town with cardboard signs urging people to think about the homeless and to keep the homeless in their hearts.

One of the cardboard signs in the installations, for example, carries a Martin Luther King Jr. quote: "The well-off and the secure have too often become indifferent and oblivious to the poverty and deprivation in their midst."

The cut-out figures are painted in black and white. From a distance they are an eerie evocation of skeletons and death camps, but in proximity they convey innocence.

So far the reaction of the city -- led by Dallas City Hall -- has been to knock down the cut-outs, trash them, batter them and carry them away to where they can't be seen any more.

I hope to God that's not an example of Dallas showing its true colors. I hope it's just City Hall egging on the assholes among us. Either way, art has just landed a major face-punch on Dallas.

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Andy Sturm of bcWORKSHOP was measured in his remarks when I called him yesterday. He told me how, for example, The Friends of the Katy Trail had called bcWORKSHOP and asked that a set of cut-outs installed near the trail be picked up.

"They had taken down a little family grouping we had put there," he said. "Someone from the group that manages the Katy Trail said, 'Hey, we got your signs, and we would really appreciate it if you would come get them because they shouldn't be here.' I went over last night with my truck and brought them back."

I don't want to beat up on the Katy Trail people. I called them. They said they were afraid the cut-outs would "impair vision," and they told me all about the city's sign ordinance. I'm sure they were trying to do the right thing, and they're not assholes. But they also said they had seen city officials on television talking about how the cut-outs all had to be scoured from the landscape because they violate the city code.

Bullshit. Nobody should touch those figures. People should step back from those figures and clasp their hands over their mouths. Those signs are moral spirits talking to our hearts.

Sturm told me most of the signs are gone. But the workshop has a few left. I hope people will comment here and volunteer locations on private property where the figures can be erected. They must stand as what they are and should be -- powerful public art.

We need to get a bunch of those suckers up in time for the Super Bowl.


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54 comments
Prsteele403
Prsteele403

I have been homeless in "AMERICA", The part about it was/is I'm a veteran. I see more illegals aliens getting more social services help from this nation. Its own citizens, Their was no welcome home in 1975 for veterans.Just hatred, scorn and contempt.So much for serving in the military for this country, just to be forgotten.

So illegals aliens can invade this country for a better life. I / A veteran was never offered a better life, just just dissemination

JimS
JimS

some guy: you're a hoax, right?

some guy
some guy

This whole project was terrible. I run a cafe at Main Street Garden where one of these cutouts was put up. Attached to it was a sign that says "yogurt shops sell $250,000 worth of product each month. This is enough to feed $50,000 homeless people". Really? $250,000? Really? The cafe happens to sell yogurt there as well so we immediately took the yogurt portion of the sign off, which wasn't hard. This is why people wanted them off properties. They were trying to guilt trip people about spending money on frozen yogurt and ipods and comnpletely went the wrong way about raising an important issue. Where do you come up with $250,000? We sell yogurt and we don't sell $250,000 worth of anything in a year. After I called an informed BC that we took a portion of their sign off a couple people showed up trying to put more up. These volunteers couldn't tell us what exactly they are actually doing for the homeless problem and where they came up with these slogans. Whole operation was executed terribly.

Beth
Beth

Americans are so funny with their obsession over public space being up to code. This NOT bad in general, it just becomes silly sometimes. I remember when I ran into a bunch of graffiti people painting in daylight in Eastern Europe once and I asked them why the cops didn't come. They simply said that if they painted something big and pretty (legally or illegally) most passers by will compliment them, if they did something ugly or that was outright destrutive, then they had problems. Sure some public art/advertisements/protest will be offensive and ugly, and there should be laws concerning public space, but the fact that it is against code does not take away its value. Besides, people you don't agree with (no matter what political spectrum you are on) already advertise their beliefs everywhere, from billboards to college campuses to buses. And remember, if you got the money, you can legally tag the entire world. So if this guy is going to take the time do it, good for him. If you don't like it, pick the sigh up and trash it. A year ago I did not know what "I am Second" stood for, but now thanks to their campaign I know. Do all the billboards and stickers get annoying sometimes? I quess, but I feel more informed that I know what a whole group of people is concerned about, even if I don't share their beliefs.

amber
amber

A terrible embarrassment and I wish I could have been a part of the team - that's a creation/idea to be proud of conceiving.

I live downtown on the corner of Main and Field.

You can put them on my balcony - I'm on the top floor so people may see a skeleton instead of a poster. However, the roof top bars can likely see it more clearly.

ARCHcowboy
ARCHcowboy

if the bcW signs are a violation of the City sign ordinance, then there better be some repercussions against every one of those damn signs i see at street corners with phone numbers and "investment property" or "tax work" or whatever else they are scamming.

JimS
JimS

Colloquys like this make me wish Jesus Christ would come back to Dallas and that he would bring all of his disciples with him, so we could take out our stop-watches and see how long it took for our fair city to toss him and his libtard posse into Lew Sterrett, where, due to an unfortunate computer software problem, they would never be found again.

Bill Amos
Bill Amos

"As a community, we get horrible leadership from City Hall. Terrible. City Hall brings out the worst in us."

Agreed. This is one project the City of Dallas needs to embrace and support.Certainly the next leadership in City Hall needs to view the community as those they serve and not vice versa.

Bill AmosThe Progressive Center of Texas

Obama's Seat
Obama's Seat

The cardboard cut-outs find a home and everyone bitches.

Montemalone
Montemalone

Does this mean the Katy Trail people won't be allowing the zillions of signs asking for money? promoting for profit walk/runs? and the tables full of crap that pop up every weekend for those for profit runs that end up sitting there all weekend?

Ellum08
Ellum08

Hey Jim,

Why don't you rail against those neighborhoods (Deep Ellum, North Oak Cliff, the Cedars, hell even North Dallas) for not wanting to be part of the solution to ending homelessness in Dallas?

As a poster said above, the City is doing pretty much all it can in this situation, but until more permanent housing options are available, not much will be gained.

East Dallas Mark
East Dallas Mark

Too bad the city is not as aggressive at cleaning up old campaign signs.

Oak Cliff Townie
Oak Cliff Townie

It just dawned on me we don't have a clue how many independent of each other groups there are involved in caring for the Homeless in Dallas ?We have some very high profile groups who Take all the head lines (not saying this group is one of them )We have these folks contributing mega bucks http://www.mdhadallas.org/dono... This list will stun any one into asking Where are the real results we should expect for so much effort in time and Money .

Jay D
Jay D

The City of Dallas appointed an "Homeless Czar" and opened The Bridge several years ago to house the homeless, and has a program for settling families in no, or low, rent apartments. The federal government spends about 4 billion a year on homeless programs. How much does Dallas and Dallas County spend each year fro homeless support and programs? How much is sufficient? How about some perspective on the problem? The sign issue is superfluous, really.

cactusflinthead
cactusflinthead

Of course they were going to find some reason to make the signs disappear from any public space. The reason of equal opportunity to put up a sign by any and all comers is valid. If they let this one pass then it is a free-for-all. The reason cited that they are brutally honest and confrontational is also valid. I can't name a city in Texas that wants to see their dirt aired in public. Do they need to be seen? Absolutely. Just not on public property. I'd like to see some private individual display them on their prominent location, but even that is unlikely to last very long. They made the frog band disappear and that was nothing more than whimsical. This is confrontational art meant to disturb complacency. If they get planted on Old Lady Grimsley's corner lot it will just mean some injunction or whatever other BS they have to concoct to get this "eyesore" out of view, if not existence.

Anonymous
Anonymous

Dear Dallas liberals (of which I am one):People in other cities don't like homeless people either. Dallas isn't special in its aversion to the homeless, mentally ill, etc. Get over yourselves.

Lakewooder
Lakewooder

I cross the Katy Trail at Knox twice daily. The cut-outs at this location were placed near the brick wall. They weren't obstructing anyone's view.

Rooster
Rooster

Gotta agree with Josh. While I find the bcw's cause noble, if you let them start stabbing stabbing plywood silhouette figures all over town, you have to let everyone else do it, also, and some of "everyone else" are complete whack jobs - PETA nuts, Neo-nazis, abortion activists, etc.

You have to draw the line somewhere, and I don't have a problem drawing it here.

Chris Danger
Chris Danger

Good post Jim, Its what ive been saying for awhile, this city and region likes to brush away its problems and ignore them instead of hitting the unpleasantness head-on and doing something constructive about it. Andy Strum and bcWORKSHOP have taken a creative approach to bring light to a very serious problem, for that I applaud them. Maybe their work will be the catalyst to enlighten some of the right-tilting mutant knuckle-draggers around here to become a bit more active in their community...;)

MattL1
MattL1

I've always thought (or for as long as I could ponder such thoughts) that city sign ordinances were more about having a legal recourse to remove any display that the powers-that-be find objectionable, or that destroys the illusion that all is well in their municipality. It is, after all, easier to hide problems than it is to address them. It's also possible that I didn't get enough sleep last night and am a bit cranky.

Josh
Josh

Some people also consider abortion a serious moral problems (in their view, a more serious problem than homelessness). If those groups started putting up signs on public lands and in public parks, would you react the same way if the city took them down? How about groups supporting gay rights, or groups who want to keep marriage hetero only? The point is, its not practical to have every group that wants to do little projects like this on public lands. We'd loose our parks to political billboards. You have to treat them all equally.

Jgreenan
Jgreenan

Can you ask Wilonsky if these historical Dallas artifacts are for sale on Ebay yet?

Anonymous
Anonymous

I've never seen a sign on the Katy trail for anything other than Friends of the Katy Trail. Am I mistaken?

Chris Danger
Chris Danger

As a resident of Deep Ellum, I have to step up on this. We dont have an issue w/ helping, its the sheer fact that both south and east dallas has been forced to take "others peoples baggage" for years. I don't intent to sound like a NIMBY, but it would be a more positive move to have other parts of the city,especially north of mockingbird/west of mckinney, (i.e oak lawn/park cities) to start taking their just share of the homeless as well. We ALL need to be the solution, not just some of us.

Nunya
Nunya

You can omit the Cedars from that statement. We were willing to work with developers on a project in that old hotel.

Montemalone
Montemalone

Yes.I think a majority of commenters have missed the point, or else I have.It's the hypocrisy, stupid.

JLT
JLT

Thank you for saying that. I'd like to bring back our vagrancy laws and in the wake of the Tuscon shootings, change TX involuntary commitment laws back to the way they used to be. I had a brother who was "homeless" because he was cut in the vicious circle of drugs, alcohol and mental illness and it made him living at home impossible for all of us, including him. Being "homeless" is not a solution to these problems which a good deal of our "homeless" suffer from.

ScottsMerkin
ScottsMerkin

Its not just the homeless that the city ignores and brushes away, they do it with our streets, our levees, our older bridges, and its citizens that make less that $1 million a year

JimS
JimS

Josh: you're right. If we allow one group free speech, they're all going to want it. I change my mind. Haul the bastards to the gulag.

Montemalone
Montemalone

Yes.I'm a daily user.Huge tarp signs, tables, tents, etc.

And they once had some pop up art installation of a living room with furniture and a TV on the bridge over Blackburn.

Ellum08
Ellum08

As a resident of East Dallas and a worker in Deep Ellum for a number of years, I know that those areas get dumped on all the time. There are certain stores/areas that I avoid completely because I always get hit up for money.

I couldn't agree more that other parts of the city should step up, but the reality is that most services are downtown, so the inner neighborhoods are going to bear the brunt of this problem.

Just stop blaming City Hall when it seems they are doing pretty much all they can on the subject.

Ellum08
Ellum08

Really? Because that isn't the way the media portrayed it. What inside info do you have?

Alfredo
Alfredo

MontemaloneSorry but you are about 20-30 years off, the movement to close the large mental hospitals, which were really nothing more than warehouses for the mentally ill, started in the1950s and was driven by the legal system. The supposed deinstitutionalism was to be replaced by community services which haven't worked very well because they were either under funded or were a bad idea depending on who you ask.

In East Dallas I don't need cutouts to remind me of the homeless all I have to do is look in the alley.

Roadsidecouch
Roadsidecouch

Yeah lets open up the poor farms again. Gives them a place to stay and work. Of course they could also opt for old fashion bus ticket out of town if they are so inclined.

Montemalone
Montemalone

Thank Ronnie Raygun for ousting the mentally ill from hospitals and loosing them on the streets.Can't be wasting tax-dollars when there's Star Wars weapons systems to build and small, South American island nations to invade.

JLT
JLT

Correction to my post above: "cut"=caught

Montemalone
Montemalone

I suppose we could fill the potholes with the homeless

Chris Danger
Chris Danger

I agree scott, this town likes to act like a big player, but they dont take care of their problems as such, which you can see from this issue and others. Its what ive said about Dallas for years, its a one step forward/two step back kind of town, and thats a damn shame...

2145551212
2145551212

The group still has the right of free speech, which doesn't give anyone the right to do whatever they want to get their message out.

Jay D
Jay D

So it would be acceptable to you if a group of urban taggers came by your house and spray painted "Save the Homeless" on the side of your garage? How about if they spray painted your car with black and white silhouettes of the homeless?

Your position on this issue parallels your position on illegal aliens. You simply don't recognize existing laws which prohibit activities you support.

Rooster
Rooster

I realize this cause is obviously important to you, but that's no reason to check common sense at the door. You can't have parks suddenly become full of silhouette figures just because a certain group views that cause as important. There's simply too many of them, and suddenly all public parks will be filled with signs from every wingnut group on the planet.

If it's a group of white supremicists posting billboards of lynched bodies, or black people eating watermelon, are you still as vigilant?

No one is telling them they can't promote their cause, or have freedom of expression, but freedom of expression has always had limits.

I believe it was Supreme Court justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. that said, "Your right to swing your fist ends where my nose begins"?

Anonymous
Anonymous

I use it daily as well and have never seen them. Go figure. I guess I'd be just as likely to look past an installation about homeless people too though. So really I don't care whether the signs are there or not.

Louise
Louise

Deinstitutionalization was simply a bad idea.

2145551212
2145551212

In 1975, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that involuntary hospitalization and/or treatment violates an individual's civil rights in O'Connor v. Donaldson. Addington v. Texas , 441 U.S. 418 (1979), is a U.S. Supreme Court landmark case that set the standard for involuntary commitment for treatment by raising the burden of proof required to commit persons from the usual civil burden of proof of "preponderance of the evidence" to "clear and convincing" evidence.

Louise
Louise

Reagan was not the originator of that policy. The idea of letting the mentally ill out of the asylums came from the anti-psychiatry movement. There were numerous lawsuits to let the nuts out of the nuthouse. The blame for this one can be shared equally by the liberals, whose idea it was, and the conservatives, who saw it as a way to save money.

Rooster
Rooster

@Scott - I realize Reagan did that, but if the topic was that important to people, leaders have had decades to "undo" it. Blaming Reagan at this point is just silly. It's not like he invaded Iraq and there's nothing that can be done now.

scott
scott

Sorry Rooster, but Reagan did do that. As to vagrancy laws, those are illegal too. Not that there aren't all sorts of other ways to achieve the same effect.

Rooster
Rooster

Reagan? Seriously? I mean....you know...you realize he's been dead for 7 years, and hasn't been president for over two decades?

DA don't care
DA don't care

There was a "family" of these cutouts at the Main Street Park the other day that are now gone (they must have finally got enough bus fare to get to Oak Cliff, which is the standard pan handling script I get from the MSP bums). I didn't really understand the need since there are real live homeless people there every day and night, and in case we forget they are there, we can be reminded by the trash they leave strewn along the eastern edge of the park. Thanks a lot you lazy "conveyors of innocence".

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