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Fair Park group says city has failed South Dallas

MIKE McGEE | 8/21/2017, 11:41 a.m.
“This area has been nicknamed ‘Zombieland’ because that’s what’s here due to mental illness, drug abuse, all other kinds of ...
Area resident Tammy Johnston, whose home is within sight distance of the I-45 homeless camp, announced that the city needed to take further steps to protect the alleys in her neighborhood from the homeless who are now beginning to creep in. Mike McGee

The Dallas Examiner

“This area has been nicknamed ‘Zombieland’ because that’s what’s here due to mental illness, drug abuse, all other kinds of illnesses and idiosyncrasies. It’s what we deal with on a daily basis,” said Ibrahim Abdullah of the Masjid Al-Islam Beacon of Light Community Outreach Service Center as he stood within the homeless tent city under Interstate 45 near Fair Park, Aug. 2.

During an announcement that afternoon by a group calling themselves The South Dallas Fair Park Residents and Business Communities, members of the organization gathered in front of the encampment and spoke on the blight, filth and crime that the homeless generated in the neighborhood.

“We are not condemning the people themselves, who are forced by economic and social conditions, who probably because of personal injury, illness and addictions [have] to live outdoors,” began Thomas Muhammad, a business owner who grew up near the freeway, as he read from the organization’s prepared statement.

“We are condemning the heartless policies of Dallas City Hall, which subsidize developers to gentrify the inner city, but can’t find enough resources to help people off the street,” he continued.

The organization, loosely formed of faith and city leaders, business owners and residents, spoke out on the ineffectiveness of the city’s plan for the homeless – a population that is 58 percent African American, per the 2017 Point-In-Time Homeless Count released in January – which they claimed led to the further spreading of homelessness into business districts and neighborhoods, bringing lawlessness, panhandling, fear and squalor.

Muhammad also expressed that those displaced and living under I-45 were themselves living in “inhumane and continued deteriorating conditions.”

Unexpectedly during the announcement, one apparently mentally impaired denizen of the tent city appeared over a small rise, carrying a car wash spray nozzle in the manner of a rifle and a Chuppa Company knife in her raised left hand. She moved in closer to the assembly with little notice, the advocates focused on their message and the media concentrated on the announcement.

The unnamed woman had the opportunity to move close behind former City Councilwoman Carolyn R. Davis and eventually walked directly between the surprised speakers and onlookers as DPD Corporal B. Ledezma followed closely. The officer was able to quickly disarm the woman, who was then arrested with no further violence. Yet, it was the actions of the unidentified indigent woman who lived in the camp that bore witness to the reality of Muhammad’s message.

“It is a health hazard. It is a crime-infested place that has increased the criminal activity in our neighborhood,” said Tammy Johnston, president of the South Boulevard-Park Row Neighborhood Association about the blemish the tent city has created for locals. “We have people camping out in our alleyways behind our homes.”

In consideration of the conditions that breed such dangerous situations, the advocates suggested four points of change the city needs to engage when dealing with the homeless where current efforts have failed.

Closing the enclave itself was considered a top priority for the group. As Abdullah gestured towards support columns of the overpass, there were posted signs that warned litterers and trespassers of fines and arrest and wording that urged residents to call TxDOT in case of an emergency.