Voices of invisible Tent City residents
MIKE McGEE | 8/21/2017, 11:44 a.m.
The Dallas Examiner
After an Aug. 2 formal media statement on homelessness outside an illegal tent city was interrupted by unexpected violence, numerous television news crews entered the Interstate 45 settlement with police officers in order to record images of the location and the squatters themselves.
However, the residents of the camp – those trapped within intersecting fences of their own limitations, the conditions of the encampment, the authority of the city and the restrictions of relief agencies – remained unapproached; an untouchable American caste whose voices were virtually ignored that day.
Two homeless individuals did lift their voices to The Dallas Examiner, however, under the condition that they remained anonymous. The woman referred to as “Rhonda” may have been in her early 30s. The man referred to as “Kenneth” was a former construction worker from California who appeared to be in his late 40s.
The duo was part of a small group of African Americans socializing on the site. The occupants of the entire tent city in fact appeared to be 100 percent people of color, the fastest growing segment of displaced individuals in the county.
As reported by The Dallas Examiner in March, Cindy Crain, president and CEO of the Metro Dallas Homeless Alliance, presented results from the city’s 2017 homeless count. The data she offered revealed a pattern nationwide: the number of permanently homeless Blacks within a city is statistically three times that of the total Black population of the city, a calculation seemingly consistent with the racial population living beneath the overpass.
Rhonda and Kenneth sat at an old wooden coffee table, a disheveled faux leather sofa placed along one side. On the table rested a marble chess set and an assortment of spices and utensils. Even as these individuals represented something as impersonal as a demographic, they also strove to make their area as clean and inviting as possible.
“I think what would make a difference for a lot of people here that are homeless is housing,” Kenneth said. “The shelters here, they’re not fitting. To me, they’re not shelters. They’re kind of ran like jail or something, and that’s what makes people not really stay there and end up out here.”
Ironically, Crain discussed the same topic when she reviewed this year’s homeless count: There is a dire need of affordable housing for those living on the streets.
“This means something to urban planners,” the CEO said at that time, explaining the geographic changes regarding where the homeless accumulated within city limits. “This means something to people who are going, ‘Do we build a shelter or do we build housing? Where do we put housing?’ … This means something to neighborhoods.”
“Here, it’s like they’re not trying to help,” Kenneth continued.
Rhonda stated that hygiene was a major problem in shelters, and Kenneth complained that often the food, including that donated to the tent city, is often beyond the indicated expiration date.
“So, you know, some people out here get sick,” he said.
Noticeably, the smell of mud mixed with human excrement was apparent in certain spots in the camp.