Parents with children attending Arcadia Park Elementary in West Dallas are in an uproar after a homeless and vagrant encampment reportedly sprung up in the wooded area behind the school.
“I think it was Wednesday when [my twins] … told me that the homeless guy that lives in the back, that he was staring at them and that he told them to go where he was,” said mother Daily Ochoa, speaking with NBC 5.
Parents also told the local news outlet that one suspected vagrant tried to gain access to the school.
“Since they started to clean up the freeway, they’re starting to push them this way more. … During the night … I see them with their grocery carts full of their stuff, and they cut through the school parking lot, and they go through the back of the dumpsters of the library,” said one parent, identified only as Jay by NBC 5.
Jay was likely referencing the infrequent encampment sweeps executed by the City of Dallas Office of Homeless Solutions (OHS). OHS has prompted frequent criticism for its ineffectual programs and use of taxpayer money.
Dallas’ severe homelessness and vagrancy problem has tested residents’ patience, with the City posing purported solutions that some community members find unacceptable, like turning a decommissioned Oak Cliff hospital that is right across the street from Jimmie Tyler Brashear Elementary into a “homeless services” center, as previously reported in The Dallas Express.
The issue has taken on greater urgency in the wake of a safety audit of Texas public schools that found inspectors gained unauthorized access to 5% of the campuses they reviewed.
The Dallas Express previously reached out to the Dallas Independent School District (DISD) following the release of the audit report and asked if any of its campuses were breached by inspectors but never received a reply from any district representative.
Parents at Arcadia Park Elementary are especially worried that their campus could be compromised by a vagrant, telling NBC 5 that the gate in the security fencing is “always open.” They also say the fence can easily be scaled by someone trying to get on campus.
“[It] is really small, like, it’s not tall. So [anybody] can easily jump over it. The playground is probably, like, six feet from where the gate is,” Ochoa told NBC 5.
The Dallas Express contacted OHS and asked about the situation. A spokesperson replied:
“[OHS] was called out twice to this location. We received our first call December 5, 2020, and second on December 6, 2022. Upon arrival in 2020 according to the service request, there were no signs of a homeless encampment, however, one individual was approached nearby and asked to relocate.
“On December 6, 2022, OHS did not encounter any homeless or see signs of an encampment or activity. We take these matters seriously and are in contact with leadership at Arcadia Park Elementary to further investigate this issue and resolve this matter within 24 to 48 hours.”
DISD also issued a statement in response to a request for comment from NBC 5:
“We are aware of the concerns that are being brought forward. Please know that safety is always top of mind, and we have been working with parents and community members to ensure that any potential concerns are addressed. We take all claims seriously and are continuing to review each report. We are committed to working with our community to ensure that our campus remains a safe learning environment.”