In November 1989 I was walking from the Dallas Morning News to the NCNB tower when I noticed what appeared to be a large stack of rags and blankets and a large yellow suitcase. I saw no human presence and presumed the articles had been abandoned by one of the many homeless in that part of town. I made no effort to put space between myself and the rags or quicken my pace.
As I passed within a foot of the pile a long bare yellowed arm reached out and grabbed my pants leg. Your heart stops in moments like that. However startled I discerned the arm belonged to a woman of undetermined age covered by the blankets. She was filthy with rheumy eyes and a deep rattle in her whispered voice. I knew instantly she was dying. I bent to hear whatever words the woman had left. She had none. She only handed me a wallet containing nothing but a faded photo of a young girl. She looked up, shook her head and died.
A police car pulled up and asked if there was a problem. “Not any more,” I think I replied. I never learned her name or if the photo was of her daughter, or a friend, or of herself or just a photo. At moments like that one recalls the saying, “There but for the grace of God go I.”
That is how I became entranced with the problems of the homeless and who should bare responsibility for their care and what the ultimate goal of that care should be. It is a complex problem and not one simple compassion can necessarily guide. Well intentioned people disagree – violently. Yet, the voters of Dallas will soon be called on to make a complex decision that will have a profound affect on their city on the 6000-odd homeless said to live in Dallas County.
Tom DunningOn November 8th Dallas voters will decide whether or not the city should issue $23.8 million in general obligation bonds (that means they will be paid off by property and sales taxes) to build a homeless shelter. Many are under the impression the bond authorization contained in establishes the location of the shelter in downtown Dallas near the Farmer’s Market. It does not. The Council must ultimately determine the location.
That said there is no reason to believe the location will not be the one recommended by a task force headed long-time civic leader and one-time mayoral candidate Tom Dunning. It is the location that has turned what would otherwise be a near certainty into a serious campaign with an uncertain outcome.
Property owners like Ted Hamilton who have made substantial investments in downtown believe the continued presence of a large contingent of homeless in the central city will scare off the legions of residents that must lead the core’s revival. Other elements oppose the Proposition 14 because of the sheer $23.8 million cost.
Dallas County says there are about 6000 homeless in the county and that about 1000 of those are hardcore homeless with severe mental or emotional problems. At present there are about 2100 shelter beds available at various shelters and another 460 for the growing population of family homeless. No one argues that the city’s existing shelter is too small, and offers virtually nothing in the way of security. The argument is over how where, how much and exactly what.
Dunning argues you cannot force the homeless to travel to a shelter located where they don’t want to go. He suggests a shelter built at one of the alternate locations far from the central city will sit empty and downtown will still be overrun with homeless; others believe the City is taking the easy way out. Expensive brochures have been mailed by opponents who say they do not oppose a shelter but the location and the only way to insure a different location is to defeat Prop 14 outright.
I am intently listening to both sides and have no idea how I will vote. My growing sense is that I am far from alone.