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Wednesday, May 25, 2022
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Homeless Camp Rhonda Lives on At New Location

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“These people need help. These people need housing.”

“What you’re seeing right here is only the tip of the iceberg about what’s going on,” Lisa Taylor, of the Dallas International Street Church, told the Dallas Express. What she’s referring to are the homeless encampments located off Ash Lane in the City of Dallas.

On the left side of the intersection of Ash and Merlin Street is Camp Rhonda, a homeless community of a dozen or so tents. It has two portable toilets a resident said was provided by the city. This homeless camp has repeatedly been in the news and changed locations. It was once in Deep Ellum, then moved near city hall but was evicted in March. As of mid-July it now sits here among other homeless encampments.


One of the residents, Willie, a tall older man, said he’d been at Rhonda “forever.” “I was actually one of the first occupants here on Camp Rhonda,” he said.

Another older resident— we’ll call him “George” as he wouldn’t give his name—said he’s been with Rhonda four months. He said code compliance—which enforces city codes and ordinances—is supportive of them being at this location. Willie agreed with that. “The city is kind of okay with us being here,” he said.

“Sometimes we get a little trouble, but for the most part it’s a process to get all these people off the property,” said Candy, a young woman who came to Rhonda last year. She heard the city had bought this land. When asked about her everyday life at Camp Rhonda, Candy replied “I’m always on guard,” but “I’m not that fearful because I have something to protect me.”

Another homeless man, Blue is his name, has been living near Rhonda’s current location area for roughly six months. He said spiders are a concern. “A lot of people are getting bit by them.”

Previous Help
Willie said at first the city was going to get them housing. “But they found out the job is not as easy as they thought.”

He and Candy shared how the city bought and put them up in the Miramar Motel. “They just left us at the motel,” Candy said. Her time there wasn’t pleasant, as she’d find someone had been in her room while she was away. “I got money stolen from me.”

The motel experiment ended with everyone getting kicked out. “They said that we will be in our own apartment within a few weeks, but that never happened,” Candy said.

“They turned the tables around and said, ‘hey we’re not caseworkers, we’re not supposed to give you housing,” Willie stated. “They dropped the ball on that … [and tried to] hand it off to the shelter.”

Shelters
“They want us to go to the shelter. Shelter ain’t going to provide us room for all of our belongings,” he continued. “They have rules and regulations for how much you can have…there’s some things that we do have that we would like to hold on to.”

Blue said he “doesn’t do shelters.” “There’s too many people together,” he explained. “When there’s too many people together, there’s drama.”

Candy said she could go to the Austin Street Center shelter, but isn’t sure how that would help her because of her other obligations. “I have to do classes, which I can do on Zoom [but] my phone is off. I have to do visitations … [with] Child Protective Services,” she said. “Austin Street, I think you have to stay in all the time.” Teresa Thomas for Austin Street Center told Dallas Express “that would’ve been correct for COVID,” but that Candy “would’ve been able to get a pass for those things.”

Candy said she’d prefer going someplace “more structured” like the Genesis Shelter or Emily’s Place, as opposed to what she called the “temporary” places she currently goes to, like the Salvation Army. “There’s barely any caseworkers, they come in when they want to, they’re not really consistent on things,” she claimed. The Salvation Army didn’t respond to a request for comment before publication time. Candy said she hadn’t “really tried the other places” including the Genesis Shelter.

Other Solutions
Willie shared that someone had wanted to build apartments and town homes on his own property for the Camp Rhonda homeless, but the city stopped it. “They [were] telling him that we couldn’t be on his property because it’s a commercial-residential code or something,” he said. “He allowed us to be on his land with tents and everything, but the city came back and told him you can’t have these people on your land.”

According to Willie, help and services were being provided to the homeless while they were there. “But the city came along and said ‘hey, you all are looking too good. We can’t have that.’” Willie said the owner was told he’d be charged $5,000 per tent if they remained on his land, which he couldn’t afford. They had to leave.

George claimed the city wants to take away their tents. “That would leave us what? Freezing and cold? People will die like that, bro.”

Taylor points out Camp Rhonda isn’t the only homeless encampment in Dallas. “We have places all over that you can go, and there’s people laying under bridges when it was cold,” she said. “These people need housing.”

When it comes to people of Dallas itself, Candy expressed thanks to them for what they’ve done to help. “But we really need to have a consistent schedule, and we need to not break promises,” she said.

“If we can get the city to get down with us, to help us, we can get our own apartment,” George said.

Blue “We don’t live off food alone,” he added. “We need money to buy accessories for pain and headaches.”

She’s a victim of ID theft, and only has identification to get help from local charities, nothing to help her get employment. “I just now got my social security card in, and now I’m having to prove who I am with the DMV,” she said. Currently she’s with Plano Day Labor, and if she arrives before 9:30 am she’ll be put on the list and able to work, but Willie says consistent transportation to work is another issue.

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