What used to be a vacant lot near Deep Ellum is now an encampment where about 30 people facing homelessness reside.
The encampment has been there since October, when volunteers and local organizations rallied on social media to find displaced Dallas residents a safe place to stay.
Lucy Sakiewicz was volunteering at Camp Rhonda Friday, serving soup out of a tall, silver pot. She said part of the reason they wanted to set up a space like this was to avoid city sweeps of homeless encampments.
“A lot of it is just general safety, there’s safety in numbers,” Sakiewicz said. “It was really a need for safety, a need for stability.”
Through crowdsourcing online, she said volunteers got in touch with Johnny Aguinaga who owns the property. He offered to let people pitch tents and stay there — but the city wants them to move out.
Spokesperson Catherine Cuellar said the city stopped conducting sweeps in December, following guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to avoid displacing people experiencing homelessness, instead focusing on COVID-19 prevention.
Then on Jan. 27, Dallas’ Office of Code Compliance issued Aguinaga a notice of violation, stating his lot is industrially zoned, and the encampment is not in compliance with city regulations.
“The goal is code compliance, so no citations have been issued,” Cuellar said. “A notice of violation was issued and staff is trying to educate the property owner to bring the property into compliance. The zoning is there for everybody’s health and safety.”
Originally, Aguinaga was given until Feb. 6 to get his property in compliance. That meant the residents of Camp Rhonda had just 10 days to find a new place to stay.