Homeless encampments in the City of Dallas aren’t only located east, like where Camp Rhonda is. Roughly four miles north of downtown, an encampment was found in the Highland Park area, and the struggles the homeless expressed there sound familiar to those at Rhonda.
At the intersection of Lemmon Avenue and Lomo Alto Drive, across the street from a Whole Foods market, is the City of Dallas’ Craddock Park. A homeless encampment was there as of July 29.
Under a tree in the park was an ottoman with two suitcases on one side and a shopping cart filled with blankets, clothing, and a pillow on the other.
Across from that, between two trees, was a tarp converted into a tent, a short walking distance from an underpass of the Dallas North Tollway.
Under the tarp are Eugene, a man appearing to be in his late 20s–early 30s, and Kelly, a lady seemingly in the age range of 40 to 50. Eugene’s been here about a year and a half since he got out of prison. Kelly, who said she’d been 29-year paramedic before retiring, has been here “off and on” for a year. She said she was hit by a car in January and hasn’t been able to contact lawyers to file a lawsuit because her phone repeatedly gets stolen. “No one is exempt from being homeless,” she told The Dallas Express.
Two mattresses, an assortment of suitcases, and a variety of other items were under the tarp, which they said they found while dumpster diving. Eugene said their tent had been under the tollway, but law enforcement told them to move. “They just told us to move over on this side, and we can’t be there because that’s the toll road.”
Both said theft is something they regularly deal with. “What’s out here a lot is people steal from us, and turn right around and say we steal from other[s],” Kelly said. “It’s almost inevitable when you’re homeless, because you ain’t got nowhere to store anything,” Eugene added. “The best way to protect your stuff out here is knowing somebody that owns some property.”
The COVID–19 situation hasn’t helped either. “People weren’t hiring,” Kelly said. “Some people treat us like we have leprosy.”
Since getting out of prison, Eugene said the help he was offered were shelters. He described shelter life as having a lot of people, and rules. “If you want to help yourself, they can be helpful.” When asked why they aren’t there, Eugene pointed to their guidelines. “You have to be in at a certain time. Got to pack in all your property. Get in line [at] 1:00 every day,” he said. “Standing outside to get back in everyday, it just takes a lot out of you. It’s hot outside, standing in long lines … it can just be stressful.” He did say “it’s understandable” guidelines exist. “Sometimes, you got to have [guidelines].”
Since getting out of the hospital after being hit by a car, Kelly said she’d been in the Salvation Army’s recuperative care program. “I would go back to the Salvation Army, [but] I don’t have any money for snacks and cigarettes.” As for shelters, she explained why she’s never gone to one. “I don’t know It just seems like there’s so many small things get in my way of accomplishing anything,” she said. “I blow things out of proportion thinking just the world’s out to get me, or something’s not meant to be.”
Eugene explains what shelters offer, aside from someplace to be, the homeless can find elsewhere. “The same resources that the shelter provide[s] is provided for us as well out here,” he explained. “The shelter is really just a roof over your head.”
Eugene was clear about his needs. “I just need an opportunity to work,” Eugene said. “Or I need like finances just to get my legal documents and stuff.” The “legal documents” he referred to are his birth certificate, Social Security card, and ID, which he said he was provided copies of when he was released from prison. “The copies were not good enough. They were not the authentic documents.” Without these, he said, he can’t find employment. He estimates all of these would cost no more than $50 to get, but claims no one’s offered to help.
Kelly also said she needs documentation—explaining her driver’s license was stolen “years ago”—as well as food stamps, and some medication for menopause. Despite that, while panhandling, she said she was hired stocking shelves at a convenience store where she used to work. “She said she’d help me if I help her,” Kelly recalled, adding her pay is $5 a day and some food. “I get to be in the air conditioning and get something to eat.”
“We’re not being lazy or don’t want to work,” she added.
Before becoming homeless herself, Kelly said she had spent time around the homeless community. “I just don’t hear any goals or ambitions out of these people,” she observed.
Camp Rhonda and the Craddock Park encampment are nearly 5 miles apart from each other.