Dallas' Homeless Say the City Tore Down Their Camp, Trashing Meds, Clothes in the Process

Categories: City Hall, Housing

Jeffries Street homeless.jpg
"They came by the other day and swept some of our stuff up," Michelle complained. She's a petite black woman in her mid 40s, with chin-length hair partially hidden under a black and orange knit cap. On a recent weekday morning, she was perched atop an upside down bucket, blowing on her hands to keep them warm. She was happy to talk but didn't want to give her last name.

"They say they don't want us out here," she added. "They want us all in a shelter. But the shelter is always full."

She was talking about the Austin Street Center, a homeless shelter a block or so from where she usually stays. Her preferred resting place is on Jeffries Street, a dead-end road in South Dallas, a few miles east of downtown. From here, she can see the DART trains as they come into the service station on Santa Fe Avenue, and watch as cars drive down nearby Hickory Street, on their way to the Alamo Swimming Pool or the nearby scrap metal business with its bright red-and-yellow facade.

She's not alone out here. On this particular morning, there are nine or ten tents still up, plus a few shopping carts filled with stuff, and an array of backpacks, chairs, clothes and two or three curious dogs. Around 15 people line the street, chatting, smoking, coughing, laughing. At night, between 30 and 40 people sleep there, in tents, in sleeping bags, sometimes curled up with just a blanket against the dirt.

The city would rather that they weren't here. And periodically, as a way to encourage them to come inside -- to a shelter, to permanent supportive housing, to the drug and alcohol treatment many of them need -- police officers, crisis outreach workers and sanitation workers come by and throw a bunch of their stuff away.

For the City of Dallas Crisis Intervention department, specifically their Homeless Street Outreach Unit, a large "homeless encampment" like this one is a problem, a red flag, a potential health and safety threat. For Michelle it's been home on and off for two years, save for the nights when she sleeps in a friend's truck or just gets too cold and tries to get a bed in the shelter.

Even when the shelter's not full, she doesn't like to sleep there, she says. "The last time I was in there was last month," she said. "There are so many people in there with AIDS, TB, hepatitis. I like to stay out here, where there's air."

Other people on the street said the shelter regularly fills up by 5 p.m. or so, meaning you have to line up in the early afternoon to get a spot. Others don't like it because of the rules -- no smoking, no drinking, no going back outside.

Until two weeks ago, Michelle slept in a tent, a gift from churchgoers who regularly come out here to feed people and give them basic items. But on the morning of Thursday, December 6, she and the other people on the street watched as a huge yellow front-loader rolled in. Behind it were five or six Dallas police cars, which blocked off the street. The front-loader swept through the camp, taking up everything in its path: tents, blankets, clothing, medicine and personal items. All of it went into a dumpster.

Michelle lost her tent, some of her clothes and her medication. She said she suffers from lupus, and has to take daily chemotherapy meds (according to the Lupus Foundation, these are prescribed for the most severe forms of the disease.) She also says she takes high blood pressure medication, muscle relaxers and Bayer aspirin, which she gets from her doctor at Parkland. All of it went into the trash.

"They didn't give us our stuff back," Michelle said. "And they shouldn't do that. They have all of us clowning."

Michelle, Jeffries Street homeless .jpg
Michelle
Crisis Intervention acknowledges that yes, things did get thrown away. But they say that only came after the people on Jeffries were repeatedly encouraged by the department's outreach specialists, who are responsible for reducing chronic homelessness, to get inside, to accept shelter and addiction treatment.

"It is the responsibility of outreach specialists to ensure that homeless individuals are treated in a humane and professional manner," reads part of a lengthy statement sent over by the department, "and not infringe upon the client's rights and self determination." (The full statement is below.)

Crisis Intervention says their outreach workers have "persistently engaged a number of homeless persons living in a large trash-filled encampment situated along public right-of-way on Jefferies Street near the Austin Street Shelter." Short of helping to clean up the encampment, they say, shelter staff and the public have actually made it worse:

Staff from the Austin Street Shelter often brings hot meals and water to the encampment, and frequently allows them to utilize shower facilities. Passerby's often bring additional sustenance, blankets, etc. which has created a perception of satisfaction and self-sufficiency among the residents. Therefore, those who have taken up residence or utilize the site for socialization routinely refuse offers for services, and greet outreach teams with hostility and threats during visits.

The situation was untenable, the department says, and ultimately unhealthy for both the people living on Jeffries and the general public. For that reason, Crisis Outreach organized an intervention, something they do periodically "to address homeless encampments citywide in a humane and therapeutic manner."

These interventions, they say, involve "the therapeutic and non-threatening engagement of homeless persons residing in encampments that involve multi-city departments and collaborations that include police and sanitation, behavioral health providers, shelters, and veterans' organizations."

"Interventions are never defined or viewed as 'sweeps' or 'clean-ups,'" they say.

December 6 was one of these not-sweeps. Police officers provided security while outreach workers came through the camp "offering shelter and services." Three people accepted and were transported to a treatment facility and another shelter. But most people just collected their tents and their grocery carts and moved a safe distance away, waiting until the workers were gone. "Items abandoned or left on the street were removed by street sanitation workers," the statement says.

Furthermore, it adds:

Throughout the process, outreach workers continually verbally reminded and encouraged the homeless to keep control of their personal possessions such as money, medications, identification cards, benefit information, family pictures, Bibles, and anything of a personal worth. Per written policy, outreach workers are not allowed to touch or handle the client's possessions for any reason, and are prohibited from forcefully removing or grasping any item from a homeless person while it is in their possession. In addition, crisis outreach workers are prohibited from removing individuals, threatening or even suggesting that individuals leave an area.

If all of this sounds a little familiar, it should. In 2005, homeless people living in an encampment downtown lost their stuff in a similar sweep, which our own Jim Schutze wrote about. The fact that their things ended up in a landfill was characterized by the city manager as a mistake. The homeless were given claim forms to document what they'd lost.

This time, there are no such claim forms, no pretense that the things that were lost will ever be recovered. People on the street say the clean-ups happen periodically every few months, something that was also confirmed to me by a city employee. Sometimes the homeless are warned by crisis outreach workers or cops beforehand. Sometimes they aren't.

I first heard about the clean-ups from an activist group called Guerilla Mainframe, a South Dallas-focused organization that comes out to feed the homeless on Jeffries every few weeks.

"We fed over 100 people yesterday," one of their members wrote to me in a email (he asked that his name not be used). "We also found out that the city code enforcement came by and took all the homeless blankets and tents. GM will go out there again this weekend and distribute blankets on this upcoming Saturday." That message is from November 4.

City officials say there's no reason why anyone should have lost their medications, their clothes or their personal items -- the people on the street had ample warning that they needed to move their stuff, they say. But Michelle didn't get the memo. Neither did a woman named Latricia, who lost her bed, clothes and hygiene products.

"They took everything," she says. "This time I didn't know." The last time there was a sweep, she says, "they left a card on my pillow" a little while before, warning her what was about to happen. This time, after her stuff was gone, a woman from Crisis Intervention promised to come back and give her some help. She's still waiting.

Earnest Gilden, 65, says he lost his high blood pressure medication, his cholesterol meds, and his medical records. Eric White, 63, sitting nearby, says he lost his blood pressure meds too, along with his birth certificate.

"They shouldn't have did that," Gilden says disgustedly.

Other people on the street, too, don't seem to recognize that they have been engaged with in "a humane and therapeutic manner."

"They gonna let us freeze to death out here," one guy complains. He doesn't want to give his name. "This is not their property. This is the school district's property." (He's right, as it turns out. The land does belong to DISD, according to city officials).

The man doesn't understand why the city tries to keep moving them along, he says. "We got no jobs. We ain't making no money. We're not asking for nothing."

For now, they've reached a detente with the city, they say. They're allowed to keep their tents, provided they take them down between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. on weekdays. On weekends, they can stay up all day. But they know that sooner or later, the front loader will be back.

"That's nothing new under the sun," a supervisor at the Austin Street Shelter says of the clean-ups, when he answers the phone over there. He talks hurriedly for a few minutes over the din in the background, then hangs up abruptly, not offering his name. He's been homeless himself, he says. Slept under bridges, in tents, cardboard boxes. And while the shelter does get full every night, he adds, they never turn people away.

"Until they decide they want to get off those streets, they're not going to, " he declares. "It's like a spinning wheel, and it's not going to end. Writing a ticket ain't the answer either. You keep taking their stuff, dumping it in the trash, they're gonna get more stuff. There's always somebody's that's gonna care."

Statement on Jeffries Street Encampment from Crisis Intervention

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47 comments
holmantx
holmantx topcommenter

The fill dirt on the other side of the fence in your picture is where the huge homeless commissary is under construction.

holmantx
holmantx topcommenter

Central Dallas Ministries is building a MASSIVE two-block twin-building complex right where you are talking about, Ms. Merlin.  I think Frito-Lay provided the funding.  One side is a 50,000 SF food distribution center and the other building will house transitory sleeping.  Call Central Dallas Ministries and ask them when it will be complete.  

That will attract thousands more.

ghostofbigtex
ghostofbigtex

What no one has mentioned is that there piles of human waste adjacent to the Dart Rail yard - all generated by these folks. The water main under Jeffries is ancient and always broken. I wouldn't drink the water within a mile of that place. Add a lot of insects and rats...from a health standpoint that area is a disaster waiting to happen.

roo_ster
roo_ster

I started to sympathize, but then I recalled that they are camped out in front of someone's property.    We desperately need to re-institutionalize these sorts of folks. 

DOCensors
DOCensors

We could end homelessness today if every libtard alt-weekly writer would adopt 1 or 2

TheCredibleHulk
TheCredibleHulk topcommenter

Dang. That doesn't sound like a very fun camp at all.

P1Gunter
P1Gunter

These guys are really bad it would seem at being homeless. Among others, the camps at the Garland Rd/Gaston intersection along the creek and the one along the creek near 30/Ferguson have been there for years. You can see them from the damn road, it's not a big secret. Worst case you sleep under an overpass on 30 or at a myriad of places off Samuell Blvd. Why the hell would you try and set up a camp in the CBD.That said, please contribute to the Austin Street Shelter via the Normathon on KTCK. If for no other reason than to shut him the hell up about it for the next year.

DOCensors
DOCensors

They love to camp? Send them to a labor camp.

DOCensors
DOCensors

You didn't invite them over for dinner, Anna? 

pathticwhitelibtardg
pathticwhitelibtardg

Why don't you let them come live with you, Anna? Think of all the amazing sanctimonious "progressive advocacy" articles you could squeeze out of such an experience! You would be the envy of all the "progressive" hipster libtards in "North Oak Cliff"!

Daniel
Daniel

Anna sets the scene well, but is too brief in her mention of addiction. And it sure as hell ain't just alcohol.

These are the stray dogs of society. Tough love has no net effect. Compassion has no net effect. Threats, encouragements, negotiations, nothing.

These people will always be around. They're impossible to respect, but they're human god damned beings, you don't just throw their shit away in a cruel paroxysm of self-righteousness.

ThePosterFormerlyKnownasPaul
ThePosterFormerlyKnownasPaul topcommenter

Anna:

Would you please do a story on the homeless programs run by the following cities?  Please do not include programs run by private organizations within these cities.

Addison

Carrollton

Farmers Branch

Richardson

Garland

Sachse

Rowlett

Mesquite

Balch Springs

Sunnyvale

Seagoville

Hutchins

Lancaster

Desoto

Duncanville

Red Oak

Glenn Heights

Cedar Hill

Grand Prairie

Cockrell Hill

Irving

Coppell

University Park

Highland Park

Thank you.

Myrna.Minkoff-Katz
Myrna.Minkoff-Katz topcommenter

The shelters must be horrifying places to camp out, considering that so many homeless would rather brave the elements. 

holmantx
holmantx topcommenter

DCAD shows the 1st block is owned by CENTRAL DALLAS COMMUNITY, DEV CORP 511 N AKARD ST STE 301 DALLAS, TEXAS 752016615.  That is CDM's development company.  

The second city block DCAD shows CDM CENTER OF HOPE INC, 511 N AKARD ST APT 302, DALLAS, TEXAS 752016615 as the owner of this tract.

That is 7 1/2 acres of buildable area.  It's under construction.  It is located on the WC of Dawson and Jeffries, and the 2nd tract is at Hickory and Jeffries.  It also fronts . . . Merlin (ha!).

It is friggin' HUGE.  It dwarfs the Mega Shelter.

markzero
markzero

@DOCensors Every time you repeat this sort of thing, it reminds me of the old 'you like them so much, why don't you marry them?' comment kids made back in primary school. Grow up.

Double-O-Joe
Double-O-Joe

@DOCensors 

Sometimes the truly successful troll knows when to back off and say nothing.  When you take a stab at a story like this it just comes off like you're trying too hard.  There are so many of us who depend on your bitter screeds, meaningless name-calling, and childish devotion to your focus; don't let your disillusionment with your work get in the way.

Wait, is that it?  Are you getting burned out?  I dearly hope not.  What would we do without you?  How could we face the day without that little bump of self-esteem you give us through knowing that there is at least one person out there who's feeling lower than we are?  Perhaps you need to take a few days off to reconnect with that burning purpose you once felt; that bright little star of hope that gives you the strength to help us all better ourselves.  

We love you, DOCensors.  Don't go.  Please find it in your heart to go on giving us the vicarious thrill we all feel when your alias pops up.  We'll be here waiting, we promise.

Anna_Merlan
Anna_Merlan

@pathticwhitelibtardg I really cannot take any of your suggestions seriously until you resume using the screenname "observerislibtards." Your new one isn't even a full sentence! "Pathticwhitelibtardg"? WHAT IS THE G? I can't stand not knowing. 

James080
James080

@pathticwhitelibtardg  

Anna doesn't need to let them move in with her. Just allow them establish their base camp on her street for the next few years. Once her front lawn becomes an outdoor toilet, and the beer cans, cigarette butts and used syringes start piling up, I wonder if Anna and her neighbors will call the city demanding "intervention."

MikeDunlap
MikeDunlap

@Myrna.Minkoff-Katz 

Well, yeah, if by "horrifying" you mean that they have curfews and don't allow drugs and alcohol inside.

Fwiw, I bike past this encampment and shelter several times each week.  The crowd doesn't cause any problems for outsiders... they just don't want to sleep inside a building where they can't smoke, drink, walk around, etc.  Pretty understandable, iyam. 

Anna_Merlan
Anna_Merlan

@holmantx There are several parcels in that block that are owned by CDM Center of Hope Inc., you're correct. Central Dallas Ministries is now CitySquare, and the project, which has been under discussion for at least two years, doesn't look to be moving anywhere fast. This page -- http://www.citysquare.org/oc -- says the project is set for completion in "late 2012." There's nothing there right now but a pile of dirt. I see from looking at our archives that the timeline for this has been moved back quite a few times in the last couple years. We wrote about it way back in 2010, when CDM looks to have first purchased the land. Check it: http://blogs.dallasobserver.com/unfairpark/2010/08/all_the_things_central_dallas.php

If it's completed, CitySquare's page says it will house "a food distribution center; a new state of the art wellness center; a comprehensive employment training center that will house new offices for Work Force Solutions of Greater Dallas and CitySquare’s WorkPaths employment training division; CitySquare’s AmeriCorps headquarters/offices, and staging areas for CitySquare’s growing Summer and After-School Feeding Program funded by the Texas Department of Agriculture."

I don't see anything about "transitory sleeping," although I'm not sure that's a bad thing either. In fact, all of it sounds like things that are sorely needed in that area. No? 

Anna_Merlan
Anna_Merlan

@James080 Would you mind showing me to my front lawn? I'm very excited to learn that I have one. 

Also, they make indoor toilets now? Hot damn. 

Tom434
Tom434

@MikeDunlap @Myrna.Minkoff-Katz I've also driven down Hickory Street and saw the camp.  However, I notice no one bothered to contact the businesses and their employees to ask them how they felt about their new neighbors.  Although the razor wire on the fences is probably a good indicator

Anna_Merlan
Anna_Merlan

@logic4dallas Ah, I see. Thank you for the correction. I'll make some calls after our break is through and get an update. 

logic4dallas
logic4dallas

@Anna_Merlan @holmantx Actually the distribution center and job training center is almost complete. There are 50 individual living homes measuring roughly 450 sqft each planned for the area across the street. As for those, I haven't seen much movement.

Double-O-Joe
Double-O-Joe

@DOCensors

Okay, see, now you're not even trying at all.  Where's the hate?  Where's the forced, badly-constructed portmanteau of words you associate with weakness, like "libtard" or "whiteguilt"?  Where's the frothing outrage directed at no one in particular?  I'm disappointed, really.  I hoped for more.  

Of course, we all know you're just here to help us.  To cast the light of knowledge on our dreary lives, to tear aside the bloody skin of society and expose the rotting heart within.   We know your words are the way.  We know how desperately you want to make us understand, to share your brilliant insights and influence our city for the better.  We're sorry that we just can't live up to your glorious, illumined standards.  

Maybe someday.

DOCensors
DOCensors

@mavdog @DOCensors "homeless person who was found electrocuted by trying to strip active electric lines out of a building?"


Are you aware of how many empty buildings are in the area we are discussing? Do you even know where the area is? 

I posted the location of the recycling centers in response to your "OMG HOW WOULD THEY GET THERE!" comment. Well-- not hard when they are right across the street. 

When they aren't wandering around like shiftless living dead trying to cop drugs they are wandering around like shiftless living dead looking for things to steal. 

DOCensors
DOCensors

@mavdog @DOCensors What would you call a person who shits where ever they please and then walks around without pants on afterward? 

You seriously have no clue what you are talking about so stop making yourself look so ignorant and shut up already.

DOCensors
DOCensors

@mavdog @DOCensors Funny.. I removed a couple hundred pounds of copper wiring and old copper pipes from my building in that area using nothing more than a pair of tin snips. And I didn't even get electrocuted doing it! Although maybe you have given you seem to be under the influence of ECT.

What kind of tools do you think it takes for a homeless person to do hundreds of dollars of damage to an AC unit? Even one that is locked behind an iron fence.

Since you love them so much why don't you go hang out with them for a few days and report back to us. 

mavdog
mavdog topcommenter

@DOCensors 

odd, you think that posting all the recycling centers proves your point, or that it disproves my point.

As for your point, those recycling centers have been there long before the homeless arrived. no causation nor correlation.

as for my point, it is not the presence of the reycling centers but rather the capability of the thief. failure on your part.

after all, why would "feral animals" behave in this manner, they wouldn't be "feral" if they did?

really, you're just so...I don't know, simple? whatever it is, you keep me laughing. keep up the good work!

mavdog
mavdog topcommenter

@DOCensors 

wire cutters to strip copper?

bwahahahaha.

I can't stop laughing, you really are funny!

logic4dallas
logic4dallas

@mavdog @DOCensors Though DOC is quite rude with his comments, he is none the less correct. The homeless population are responsible for the bulk of all metal thefts in Dallas, which is a huge problem. Through either simple petty thefts or large scale thefts supervised by a non homeless criminal. The damage done by these thefts is extensive and has impacted that area particularly hard. The Plaza hotel is a perfect example. And before you respond with some sort of pithy comment on how would I know about such things...it is a large part of my job to hunt down these criminals,.

Not all homeless are criminals or bad, but to treat them all as poor innocent victims is just as backward as treating them all as though they are animals. A certain level of common sense should be applied that doesn't seem to currently exist in dealing with the problem. @mavdog @DOCensors

DOCensors
DOCensors

@mavdog @DOCensors The means to transport? Backpacks and shopping carts. It's not like they need to go far-- how many recycling centers are in a mile radius of this camp? Oh you've never been there so you don't know? Gosh.. I don't know where they might bring it..

%s+st+dallas&ie=UTF-8&hq=&hnear=0x864e9892b316ae51:0x22941e65a6180bb9,Jeffries+St,+Dallas,+TX&gl=us&ei=W2LTUKKsDMvxqAH50YGgCw&ved=0CDUQ8gEwAA

(enjoy the taste of my balls in your mouth)

Tools to strip the copper? It's not hard to steal or buy a pair of wire cutters. 

Maybe you should be asking how these homeless people afford all the pharmacology they are crying about losing?

Idiot.

mavdog
mavdog topcommenter

@DOCensors

"white tower of whitetopia"? haha, more great humour!

why yes, as you see from my avatar, I am a stately white dog. But unlike your blatant bigotry, we dogs are color blind. you are the one afflicted of seeing people solely through a color based lens.

as for homeless "stealing copper and wiring", the assertion reveals how nescient your mind is on that issue.

wonder how the homeless would get the tools to strip copper? or the means to transport the copper to the salvage yards? heard about any homeless person who was found electrocuted by trying to strip active electric lines out of a building? no? hmmm

yes, all I can do is laugh at your posts. they're real classics btw! keep up the good work!

DOCensors
DOCensors

@mavdog @DOCensors Good joke? I take it you have never spent any considerable time in the area. Try leaving your shiny lily white tower of whiteopia now and again to spend some time with the harijans before you pretend you are an expert.

logic4dallas
logic4dallas

@Tom434 @MikeDunlap @Myrna.Minkoff-Katz @Tom434 @MikeDunlap @Myrna.Minkoff-Katz

A majority of the serious crime for all of beat 152, the area south of 30 east of Akard west of Chestnut and north of the Dart rail, is caused by the people living in the encampment or their "visitors". Serious fights, sexual assaults, robbery, etc etc. The businesses in the area are disheartened because they don't want to be harsh, but these people are ruining their business and property values. Not to mention the constant fight against metal theft, evidently the biggest industry amongst the homeless. The fact is if you want off the street, you can find a spot in a shelter...but that means you can't smoke crack, be drunk all day, or cause fights. The people you see outside the shelters are there because they want the services of the shelters but none of the responsibilities of being civil. For everyone who doesn't see these encampments as an issue, feel free to invite all of them to stay in your neighborhood. Either you'll become logical or your neighbors will run you out of town.

Having said all that, I do not agree that their belongings should have been thrown away. There is a more logical and humane way to deal with this by creating safe areas for the homeless that aren't all out shelters in places where they won't be an issue to homes or businesses (such as underpasses), but the city won't go that route because they won't get a piece of the funding pie for that.

mavdog
mavdog topcommenter

@DOCensors

that's funny. homeless people stealing copper and wiring. good joke there.

and "feral animals". your sense of humour is much appreciated.

just can't stop laughing....

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