Dallas city officials have decided to shut down what has been dubbed “Tent City” – a sprawling make-shift community under I-45 that has become a temporary shelter for about 250 homeless people in the city. Dallas city council will break up the settlement May 4, after an increase in violence. Though officials seem to agree it should be disbanded, no one knows the best way to do it or what will happen to the people now there.
Cindy Crain, CEO of the Metro Dallas Homeless Alliance, says the camp grew in part because it was a place homeless people could sleep without getting picked up.
“The people who were at the Tent City were already unsheltered homeless, and some people say that they move there because they felt it was a ‘safe zone.’ In other words, they wouldn’t get ticketed for sleeping outdoors,” Crain says. “Essentially, it was (that) there was a community, there were some services and you just were not harassed if you went under I-45.”
The city and homeless advocates face challenges with the move in May. At least 11 people living in Tent City had already secured vouchers for Texas’s version of Section 8 housing, but they couldn’t find anyone to lease to them.
“The primary challenge is that there is little to no affordable housing,” she says. “Emergency shelters are at between 98 to 105 percent full capacity.”
Crain says once the camp is broken up, people will scatter. Some may make smaller encampments in neighborhoods, which could anger residents. Others may try to squeeze into the remaining beds at current shelters, which will burden already over-worked case managers.
Crain says her organization has six full-time case managers and they’re helping homeless people track down their IDs, so they can apply for services before May. She plans to host a “town hall” with the Tent City residents.
“We literally are working every day, as if it’s an emergency shelter under a bridge,” she says. “Every day we ask, ‘What’s your housing plan?’ We’ve bought plane tickets, we’ve got apartment applications.”