Monday, February 22, 2010
Dallas homeless sweeps are counterproductive
These sweeps by the city are obviously ineffective, inhumane, and have been rejected by many cities nationwide as unacceptable practice in dealing with street-dwelling homelessness.
On the day before the Big Snow of February 2010 two weeks ago, a Crisis Intervention team from the City of Dallas (now part of the Dallas Police Department) raided the homeless camps under a bridge. All of the personal possessions of the camp inhabitants — clothing, blankets, coats, years worth of belongings — were shoveled up by two bulldozers, and four to five loads comprising the contents of the "cardboard community" were dumped into city trucks and taken to the landfill.
Raids by the city of homeless camps are commonplace and routine in Dallas. I would suggest, however, that our city has reached a new "low" in terms of human decency and compassion when a raid is conducted under these circumstances and in this weather. Where does one start to address such an occurrence?
By early the following week, people in the camp were still without adequate [cardboard] shelter, blankets, coats and clothing. Their non-replaceable personal possessions were permanently lost. Think of the time that intervened between the raid and the following week.
At our house, where family members who were without power stayed together, we built a snow igloo, drank coffee, changed wet clothing about ten times a day, scrounged firewood that was dry enough to make a fire in the fireplace, and watched movies together at night under piles of blankets. Even with the added warmth of the fireplace, the central heating rarely stopped. It was a great snow — a fun adventure.
Not so much fun, however, if you’d just lost your cardboard home and everything you own in a raid by a city that is supposed to have your best interest at heart.
Witnesses to the "sweep" say that, just prior to the raid, no warning was given. The trucks arrived at 10 minutes to 2 p.m., and at 2 p.m., the dozers started scooping up the small cardboard community. It is my understanding that the city has agreed, after outrage by "housed" citizens and advocates about these sweeps in the past, to give at least an hour’s notice to camp dwellers. Instead, in this case, the camp members were allowed a "one-time carry:" In other words, all that they could gather in their arms one time, they were permitted to keep. Of course, those who were at work at the time of the raid were out of luck.
If you were allowed a "one-time" carry of your personal belongings, what would you choose?
Officials are also supposed to offer shelter at the time of the raid as an option. Witnesses say this procedure was not followed in this case.
Here is the city’s perspective: They want to force these homeless individuals into shelters. But the individuals involved don’t want to go.
The shelters provide an invaluable, lifesaving service with remarkable dedication. Yet there are good reasons why some people don’t want to go into them, feeling that they're safer in a community on the street.
If the goal of these raids is to encourage homeless individuals to get permanently off the street, it seems counterproductive to seize their belongings, when these belongings often include personal papers such as birth certificates and other identification which are critical to seeking housing.
Could it be that, if we’ve spent $23 million on a homeless assistance center and still have people living on the street, their presence is simply an affront to the city’s stated goal of Ending Homelessness by 2014?
These sweeps by the city are obviously ineffective, inhumane, and have been rejected by many cities nationwide as unacceptable practice in dealing with street-dwelling homelessness. It is a mark against our city that they continue here with impunity.
Karen Shafer blogs at http://theintermittentvolunteer.wordpress.com/
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