A miniature tent city has sprung up under the bridge at Forest Lane and 75, with homeless persons panhandling for funds while commuters wait at the traffic light. People seeking shelter there can be seen cooking food on outdoor grills, playing cards on makeshift tables and caring for pets. City officials say the best way to help them is to resist the good-hearted temptation to give them cash.
“This location is one of several that the staff of the Office of Homeless Solutions (OHS) have provided weekly clean-up service to since July,” wrote Kevin Oden, OHS Interim Director, in an email. “When we provide service to an encampment location, our vision is to lead persons to accept placement in stable housing and end quality of life issues that can persist with encampments.”
“The persons that we encounter at this particular encampment are particularly resistant to shelter placement – multiple persons at the intersection are permanent residents of motels in the area, and choose that area to remain due to the profitability that panhandling provides. I would offer the advice that the most effective way for panhandling to cease in an area is for giving directly to persons to cease,” continues Oden. “I would also recommend that staff and the public not collect and provide on site donations to the persons camped in this location as donations, though well intended, can continue to discourage persons from accepting placement in shelter or other housing options.”
Donating directly to service providers, Oden says, is more effective long-term.
Commenting about the growing problem on Nextdoor.com, Connie Edgemon disagreed with neighbors who suggested bringing panhandlers home to shower up and enjoy a meal.
“Please do not take any person you don’t know into your personal home to live,” wrote Edgemon, who worked for 35 years as an associate clinical psychologist and manager in Texas’ state mental health facilities. “Your safety is important, too.”
Edgemon says policies implemented years ago shifted patients with chronic mental illness out of hospital settings and into community placements, to their detriment. Many now end up in jails or prisons without staff or resources to provide treatment. The longer they go without support, including diagnosis and medication, she says, the more difficult their issues are to resolve. “It’s a never ending cycle.”
Julie Ford, a Moss Farm neighborhood resident, says she’s also concerned about restaurants and retail near the tent city. After working to stay afloat during the pandemic, businesses are losing customers fed up with the hassle.
“Because the homeless are at that intersection with several on each quadrant begging, it has caused the shopping center to suffer at the SW corner,” she shared on Nextdoor. “Is that what we want, our local businesses to close because it does not appear safe?”
In 2019, the United States Supreme Court refused to hear a 2018 Boise, Idaho case prohibiting sleeping and camping in public. The appeals court had struck down Boise’s efforts to address homelessness. By allowing that ruling to stand, the Supreme Court left local officials across the country powerless to stop homeless encampments.
In Dallas, weather prognosticators say February may be colder and wetter than usual. OHS officials say they’re prepared to help.
“This group [living in the tent city] is aware of the inclement weather sheltering operations that we conduct where we provide hotel rooms for persons experiencing unsheltered homelessness during frigid temperatures,” writes Oden. “We recently conducted specific outreach to this group to offer hotel room placement and were able to place 2 persons. We will continue to work with those persons to lead them to accept shelter placement.”
At Forest and Greenville, an urban farm is in the planning stages, modeled after Bonton Farms in South Dallas. City of Refuge has taken over leadership of the 12-acre project and envisions tiny homes, a working farm, a café, a gift shop, a chapel and a co-working space to provide employment and stable living conditions for people currently without a home.
If you’d like to aid agencies who provide food, shelter or healthcare to individuals in need, these nonprofits have ties to Lake Highlands: Austin Street Shelter, Feed Lake Highlands, Healing Hands Ministries, Episcopal Church of the Ascension food bank, Network of Community Ministries.