Thursday, April 19, 2012
CitySquare revives life and hope for Downtown Dallas’ homeless
CDC and other mixed-income developers plan to continue building permanent supportive homes in central Dallas.
“The first time I stood on the third floor patio and looked out at the West End, I thought I was King of the World! I never thought I would live downtown,” said 59-year-old
Arthur Jackson, a formerly homeless resident currently residing in a 400 sq. ft. studio apartment at the CityWalk@Akard complex on Akard Street.
After divorcing his wife of 26 years in 2003, Jackson described a troubling period of events that included drug addiction. He subsequently found himself in an unfamiliar situation: homeless, yet free to roam the streets and free of all responsibility.
“After my divorce I went mad at the world and started doing drugs, crack and hanging with the wrong people,” said Jackson. “I finally got tired. I heard about CitySquare on the news and I thought to myself I can do this.”
CitySquare, formerly known as Central Dallas Ministries, established the Central Dallas Community Development Corporation (CDC) in 2001 with the goal of providing attractive, affordable housing and homeless housing to help the poor and destitute in Dallas.
In 2005, the homeless population in Dallas County was 5,898, according to the Metro Dallas Homeless Alliance Census (MDHA). In 2011 that population slightly decreased to 5,783. Of those, nearly half were women or children and 49 percent indicated they had been homeless for at least a year.
As a result, CDC and CitySquare increased their focus into providing “sustainable, affordable housing in central Dallas” and working toward “relieving the community of the vast number of impoverished and homeless constituent’s downtown,” according to Johnice Woods, project director for CDC.
With this focus in mind, CDC opened the doors to its first mixed-income residential property, Citywalk@Akard in March 2010. Currently operating at full occupancy, CDC considered Citywalk a perfect place to house mixed-income tenants.
“We were excited about this building because of its location,” said Woods. “We’re in the heart of Dallas, close to the YWCA, transit, public services and medical district. Everything our residents need is accessible.”
CDC renovated the 15-story abandoned building on Akard to provide 200 live-in units with 100 units subsidized through vouchers. Fifty of those 100 were specifically designated as units for the formerly homeless. The additional 100 units were offered at fair-market value. Additionally, the building provides five penthouses, and designated its second floor to business tenants.
“When 7-Eleven opened up downstairs, we had hopes that other businesses would move in,” said Woods. “We’ve fared well. Abilene Christian University plans to occupy our second floor along with Enterprise Community Partners, a non-profit organization.”
Although Jackson and Woods are delighted about the work CitySquare is doing to help remedy the homeless population downtown, other residents and local businesses may not share the same sentiment. Some nearby residents say they often associate crime and drugs with the homeless population.
According to the MDHA 2011 census, 20 percent of the homeless population were ex-offenders, 71 percent were unemployed or underemployed, 38 percent had a history of substance abuse, and 38 percent suffered some form of mental illness. These statistics along with other stereotypes frighten some.
Forty-seven-year-old Tamera Spencer, a former resident of New York, recently moved back to Dallas. Newly divorced and unemployed, Spencer needed housing and learned about CitySquare from her brother, who was already a resident. At first reluctant, she decided to move-in, but now understands much of the opposition to living near formerly homeless individuals.
“They’re not prepared. Some people still want to live like they’re sheltered or on the streets and they’re not willing to make a change,” said Spencer. “They don’t want to do anything different. Many have given up on life.”
Spencer believes CitySquare needs to do more to prepare the formerly homeless before moving them into a mixed-income development home like Citywalk. For instance, it could help them find jobs and offer educational courses to them become more productive with their time. If those services are not provided, Spencer expects higher crime and panhandling to occur.
“They need counselors, hygiene classes, parenting classes; they need people to help that have experienced what they are going through. Positive role models,” said Spencer. “It’s good to give them a place to stay, but I think it’s going to be more serious crimes if we don’t help rearrange their lives.”
Part of the concept CitySquare envisioned when opening the doors to its Citywalk residents and more specifically to previously homeless residents, was to provide social workers to support their journey toward a stable and progressive lifestyle. Spencer is aware that social workers are present, but feels that is not enough.
Jackson understands Spencer’s view, but believes there is not much the social workers can do; it is up to the individual. As a formerly homeless person himself, he understands that not everyone will consider this an opportunity and reap its benefits.
“Drugs and crime goes on here, but it’s everywhere,” said Jackson. “They have social workers here to steer you away from that and in the right direction, but not everybody is ready for help. They don’t all want it.”
Once Jackson was approved as a resident at Citywalk he was determined to become a productive resident in the community. Although retired, he was a frequent volunteer. Citywalk subsequently decided to offer Jackson a job greeting residents and visitors as they enter the building.
CitySquare President and CEO Larry James addressed Spencer’s fears in an opinion editorial to the Dallas Morning News in 2010.
“Permanent supportive housing interrupts the daily parade so familiar to our homeless neighbors,” said James. “The obvious way to eliminate the offensive behaviors of the homeless is to provide them permanent places to live.”
Despite the opposition, CDC and other mixed-income developers plan to continue building permanent supportive homes in central Dallas where they believe they are most needed and beneficial.
Their latest co-development project, Atmos Lofts, is currently under construction, with a projected April completion date. Although no formerly homeless residents will occupy this residence, it is a mixed-income project slated as an affordable workforce housing development. The CDC also plans to build future housing development projects for the formerly homeless in the future.
“We haven’t lost sight of our goal. Everyone see’s the homelessness downtown and knows it’s a problem,” said Woods. “We still face opposition, but we will continue to work and change the image of homelessness. We want to appear seamless in the community.”
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