Where Will They Go? (After Tent City)

The topic around Tent City is “hey, where are you moving?” Most of the people there have been homeless for much longer than the exitence of this single encampment. Many of them have been camping outside for years. The growth and popularity of TentCity led many to move there, but they aren’t newly homeless. (see: How did Tent City get so big, so fast? )

There are 200+ tents there. Most have double occupancy, so do the math. There are lots of people who will need a place to go as the closure process proceeds. For anyone serving there, or even if you know anyone who lives down there, you need to focus your conversation on the move.  Our hope is that this move will lead some to seek shelter or treatment, as options are still available. Many are shelter resistant, or afraid of housing (for good reasons) however this is your opportunity to introduce your friends to better options than camping.
  • Some will go to a shelter: Shelters require a valid State ID. For those without one, CitySquare has been offering ID services in coordination with MDHA. They are paying the fees, getting the paperwork and they even have a connection with the court system to help remove warrants to expedite the process.
    • The Union Gospel Mission is our largest shelter. (725 beds) I recently spoke to the Executive Director, Bill Thompson, and they currently have plans to expand their men’s facility. Currently they have space available in their single women’s program.
    • The Salvation Army (600 beds) has three different programs. They have a court ordered program (for those recently encarcerated), the addiction recovery program (Adult Rehabilitation), and emergency night shelter. I’ve heard about a plan to add space including using their gymnasium for expansion.
    • Austin Street Center should win an award for being proactive. While other shelters are now trying to build expansion plans, ASC has added 90 spaces in the past year in response to the growth of Tent City. Even with 420 beds though, they are full almost every night.
    • Dallas Life has about 100 beds available. Last week I met with Reverend Sweeney and he explained that these are mostly program beds. Although they also have room in their pay-to-stay program ($10 per night), they would prefer to have people consider their free($0) program that includes the 10 month “Homeless No More” program.  Dallas Life does have the tightest restriction on criminal background but that’s because men/women/children are in the same facility (No heinous crimes: violent assaults, sex crimes, stalking or arson).
    • The Bridge has 350 mats and presented a plan to the City Council for expansion. Neighbors from CBD, The Cedars and Farmers Market showed up at the City Council briefing in protest so I don’t think this will happen anytime soon.
  • Some will seek Discipleship: Aside from the programs at Union Gospel and Dallas Life, there are a number of other ministries that provide live-in Christian discipleshp programs. These are smaller facilities, which might be a better option for some.
  • Some will seek housing: Some will get an apartment through traditional rental or an assisted (voucher) program. Many people claim that housing is the solution, but I believe bad housing is often worse than sleeping outside. Most people living in Tent City need massive amounts of support services. Housing without these services can be dangerous if not fatal. I have known too many people that have been deserted in housing-first initiatives only to relapse, become victims of human trafficking, die or be abandonded by their case managers once housed. In my opinion, housing-first without any support services is a nightmare. I’ve performed too many funerals or found too many people abused to be a fan of these programs. I think it’s sad how the conversation of housing focuses on the facilities and doesn’t include the need for support services. Millions of dollars are being discussed for housing, while ignoring the reason why people need the housing (Ok, I’ll get off of my soap box).
    • Rental – I know some people who earn a paycheck or get a monthly assistance check, who need help to find a good place to live. Use this time to quickly help them locate that perfect apartment. I’ve recommended apartment locator services for years, but sometimes that doesn’t help with low-income places. Can you help a friend call around to find a vacancy? We have found that the best method is knocking on doors. Many low-income apartment offices don’t return phone calls.
    • Vouchers – A voucher works like a coupon for housing. These are usually paid for by some government assistance program. Dallas Housing AuthorityMetrocareCitySquare and MDHAhave been working tirelessly to house people in TentCity through vouchers. At the City Council briefing it was announced that 20 people had been housed (in 10 months). A few new grants have come available that may open more spots, but housing inventory is extremely low. My biggest concern is the lack of support services for these individuals.
  • Most will camp elsewhere throughout the city. Where will they go? Probably one of these locations where the OurCalling Search & Rescue teams already visit:
map of homeless encampments in Dalls

Hundreds of encampment locations where the OurCalling Search & Rescue teams visit.

If this whole post sounds depressing as if there aren’t many options for the homeless, welcome to reality in Dallas. OurCalling is a Christian discipleship ministry for the homeless, building personal relationships within the community in order to invest in long-term change. We have records on almost 7,000 homeless individuals, with a majority sleeping outside every single day.

If you have been serving in Tent City and are wondering how/where to serve once the fences go up, stay tuned…