Homeless Setting Fires at Encampment Sites in Dallas

Homeless man warming hands by barrel fire
Homeless man warming hands by barrel fire | Image by guruXOOX/Getty Images

Dallas currently has 67 homeless service requests pending, many of which concern homeless encampments in public spaces.

The City’s Office of Homeless Solutions 311 homeless service calls dashboard shows the number and status of such service requests on a rolling 30-day basis. Some 842 requests were filed during that window, 774 of which have been marked as closed.

One of the pending requests was submitted on Friday. It reported an encampment at 3108 N Stemmons Fwy in Council Member Jesse Moreno’s District 2. The individual who filed the request noted that people at the encampment were “setting fire to keep warm at night.”

Another service request identified a homeless encampment in Council Member Omar Narvaez’s District 6 at the intersection of Oak Lawn Avenue and North Stemmons Freeway. It was filed on April 13 but remains open.

“They are burning wood and objects under a highway bridge. This is dangerous for the structure due to heat,” wrote the person who submitted the request.

As previously reported by The Dallas Express, a fire presumably set by a vagrant engulfed the contents of an encampment and a big tree that hung over the on-ramp to I-45 in Council Member Paul Ridley’s District 14 last year. City officials appeared to make little to no effort to investigate the matter at the time.

Over the last 12 months, Dallas Fire-Rescue responded to 1,058 trash fires, 825 dumpster fires, and 1,396 reports of illegal burning, according to Dallas Fire-Rescue’s incidents and response times dashboard. It is unclear how many of these fires were started by homeless individuals or vagrants.

Another open homeless service request filed on Friday identified an encampment at 1919 S Belt Line Rd. in Council Member Tennell Atkins’ District 8. The request notes “several tents and camp fires.”

Many of the requests cite excessive litter and junk strewn about the problem sites, sometimes near businesses or on public thoroughfares.

“While trash fires don’t typically cause much harm, their proximity to structures and other combustibles can make them more dangerous than anticipated,” Dallas Fire-Rescue previously told DX.

Polling conducted by DX indicates that some 75% of Dallas voters believe homelessness, vagrancy, and aggressive panhandling continue to be “major” problems. Respondents also appeared to be generally supportive of the “one-stop-shop” homeless services model used by Haven for Hope in San Antonio. The model has been credited with a 77% reduction in unsheltered homelessness in the city’s downtown area.

Some local stakeholders are looking to bring the model to Dallas. However, whether the Dallas City Council will support the initiative remains unclear.

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