City Launches ‘Friend Group’ to Assist Homeless

Dallas' Austin Street Center
Dallas' Austin Street Center has 400 beds and meets or nears capacity every day. | Image by Leslie Boorhem-Stephenson/The Texas Tribune

A new volunteer group aiming to help unsheltered individuals during cold winter weather is coming to Dallas.

The Office of Homeless Solutions (OHS) is launching a volunteer corps called the OHS “Friends Group” to support the City’s temporary inclement weather shelter initiatives.

Group volunteers will assist local shelters when the City activates its temporary inclement weather shelter plan, The Dallas Morning News reported. One of the group’s primary responsibilities will be to prepare food, bedding, and other supplies at the shelters before they are needed.

Dallas’ program administrator, Gloria Sandoval, encourages people frustrated with the ongoing issue of homelessness in the city to volunteer.

“They’re very frustrated about homelessness like everyone is,” Sandoval said, per the DMN. “We’re all frustrated.”

Previous polling conducted by The Dallas Express has found that 76% of Dallas residents are dissatisfied with homelessness, vagrancy, and panhandling throughout the city.

“And it doesn’t seem like we can solve it,” Sandoval said. “But we gain a better understanding of it when we get involved. It makes us feel like we’ve done something.”

Sandoval said Dallasites have consistently asked the City how they can best help those experiencing homelessness during periods of inclement winter weather.

“We realized that we needed to figure out a way to more formalize the group,” said Sandoval, according to the DMN. “That’s why I need an established Friends Group because we need to be able to call on people and say, ‘Hey, we’re activating in 48 hours.'”

OHS director Christine Crossley said the City needs dozens of volunteers during winter storms. While many nonprofits and churches partner with the City during inclement weather, Crossley said more volunteers are still needed.

“We as a city don’t have a ton of volunteer events,” Crossley said, per the DMN. “But when we do, we really need people.”

“Having these volunteers [means we] can pick up when the smaller church who has five or six ladies in their 60s keeping the church open and keeping the casseroles coming in for two or three days and are just exhausted,” Crossley continued. “We need a second wave who can come in or who can go get food and drop it off.”

Council Member Paula Blackmon (District 9) is serving as the OHS Friends Group’s honorary chair. Blackmon will officially launch the group on Monday, December 11, at Smoky Rose on Garland Road. At that time, the group will collect winter coats for those experiencing homelessness.

Crossley encouraged anyone who wants to donate to the homeless to “give responsibly.”

“As people are thinking about giving as we go into the holiday season — and obviously, giving is a year-round thing, but holidays are a time when I think there’s a heightened awareness of it — we just want to urge everyone to give responsibly,” Crossley said. “Please don’t just drop things off on the street because that is where we get massive amounts of litter.”

City officials have maintained that giving directly to panhandlers is not an effective way to help those who are homeless and only incentivizes people to continue living on the street.

“The reality is that this ‘street charity’ does more harm than good,” Council Member Gay Donnell Willis (District 13) previously told The Dallas Express. “It trains people to stay right where they are because they have money, food, and clothing being given to them.”

Meanwhile, some Dallasites are working to bring a “one-stop-shop” model for homeless services to Dallas under the name Haven for the Homeless, as previously covered by The Dallas Express.

San Antonio’s Haven for Hope “one-stop-shop” model provides housing and supportive services on the same campus. This strategy has been credited with a 77% reduction in homelessness in San Antonio. It has polled favorably among Dallasites, but it remains to be seen whether the City of Dallas will partner with Haven for the Homeless like San Antonio partners with Haven for Hope.

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