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Sunday, December 4, 2022
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Dallas: Homelessness … or Vagrancy?

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Homeless person with signboard that says "help." | Image by Amorn Suriyan

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Dallas has a homelessness problem. Indeed it does. But ‘homelessness’ implies that the individual actually desires a home. For example, no one describes our mayor as ‘motorcycleless’ or our county judge as ‘mohawkless.’ Those terms both imply that the mayor wants a motorcycle, and the county judge wants a mohawk.

Many of the individuals on the streets of Dallas do not want homes. I know because I’ve asked them. In fact, like many of you, I’ve offered them jobs or assistance to a shelter and the like. But they don’t want them.

They just want cash.

Many of those on our streets are not interested in a home because with a home inherently comes certain responsibilities. Responsibilities like rent or mortgage payments, taking care of a lawn, paying utility bills, or calling a plumber when needed. These are responsibilities that some people just don’t want. So, they’d rather live on the streets (or anywhere else) where they don’t have such responsibilities.

But please understand, these people need help too. In my experience, they are often addicts of some sort and need our help. They suffer horribly from these addictions. And we all know how addictions work .… an addict cannot be helped until they themselves are willing to do the hard work to rid themselves of the addictive behavior.

This is hard, painful work that is usually proceeded by great suffering until they hit rock bottom.

We need to use language properly, though. And the definition that seems to fit here is “one who has no established residence and wanders idly from place to place without lawful or visible means of support.” This is the definition of a vagrant. In our PC world, we all want to assign the most endearing term to those we want to help. That’s understandable, but it’s inaccurate and unhelpful.

The bottom line is that Dallas does have a Homelessness problem. But we also have a significant Vagrancy problem. Only by calling a problem what it is can we pursue solutions with integrity.

It is cowardly of us to take the easy way out by pretending they’re all ‘homeless’ so we don’t have to do the tougher work of dealing with people that do not even want homes.

Let us have the courage first to call it what it is and then address it head-on.

So, the question I have for our mayor and city council members is, “What are you doing about our homelessness and vagrancy problems?”

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Teresa Earnest
Teresa Earnest
8 months ago

I’ve heard the term “living rough” to describe someone who is technically homeless but prefers that lifestyle. There are so many variables it’s hard to know why each one is where they are. I look forward to keeping up on this topic!

Lib Grimmett
Lib Grimmett
8 months ago

This was very well written & compassionate at the same time! Calling a problem by its specific name brings it in focus. Still needing some solutions but admitting it is the first step! Thank you for a great article!

Gretchen Berger
Gretchen Berger
8 months ago

Let us also have the courage to point out that this problem has sky rocketed at the same rate housing prices have.

I will not deny that many of the homeless (simply meaning -without a home) suffer from addiction problems and mental illness. These problems rendering them unable to take on even the slightest responsibility.

But let us not overlook those who have been priced out of having a place to live. Let’s not overlook how incredibly difficult it is to get back on your feet when you have zero stability. Let’s not overlook how dangerous shelters can be. And how the segregation of men and women makes it impossible for families to stay together while there. I certainly would not send my 14 year old son to stay by himself at the men’s shelter. While my daughters and I stay together.

There are many people who prefer to stay on the street, but many who’d rather not. And the longer they are left out there, the harder it becomes to rejoin society.

Let’s have the courage to admit we are doing a tremendous disservice to many of our citizens by not offering living wages and affordable housing.

Gary Henderson
Gary Henderson
Reply to  Gretchen Berger
8 months ago

Those comments have some merit, but are totally inadequate in explaining our dilemma.
Corruption at the highest levels in our government, 40+ million people here that were not here 10 years ago, (most illegally), buying of the student loan vote by forgiving the debt (46 million still paying 1.5 trillion), collapsing economy began with the fraudulent overthrow of Trump, stopping our superior position in the energy production supply, etc.
More available upon request.

Mary Gottschalk
Mary Gottschalk
Reply to  Gretchen Berger
8 months ago

Darn right!!!

Gary Henderson
Gary Henderson
8 months ago

Splendid narrative, maybe our port side leaning council, mayor,, commissioners court, county judge,
DA, will work for All Lives Matter and not for the anti-American left.
More specificity available if interested.

john r
john r
8 months ago

Thank you for having the courage to write this article. It is refreshing to me to that someone will actually state the truth about most homelessness and also to not continue to believe this is all economic related.

J. Edgar
J. Edgar
8 months ago

If you are interested in more on this topic, there is an excellent piece posted today, 4/4 about homeless hotels from the Texas Public Policy Foundation.

Blake
Blake
8 months ago

I can tell that many of the folks commenting on here have no experience with homeless people in Dallas beyond street encounters. I have an apartment now that I’ve been in for over two years, but my son and I spent time in a local shelter or two. Family Gateway got us back on our feet. But yes, we wanted to be on our feet. There are three distinct types of homeless on the streets of America. The ones who want homes, the ones who don’t, and the ones who simply can’t. And from my experience these three groups are roughly the same size. So what can you do? Help the ones that need and want it. That’s all you can do.

Alan Tallis
Alan Tallis
8 months ago

Very well-expressed article about a problem we all should be extremely concerned especially our elected officials. Mental illness plays a significant role in this disgrace to our society. Getting to the root cause takes money so perhaps our elected officials can be more prudent in how they spend tax dollars. Statue removal sure doesn’t help the homeless or vagrant problem.

Susan Richardson
Susan Richardson
7 months ago

I know how to help if folks would just listen being homeless on purpose because God asked me to be ..I know what works and what don’t but until folks will listen to me they will continue to have problems I’ve been doing this off and on 30+ years ..just because God taught me …

Tammy Chan
Tammy Chan
5 months ago

I am a homeless street outreach worker in Grand Prairie. I have only ever met one person who seems to prefer homelessness over the complications and responsibilities of having a home, but in his case and all the others, I have come to the conclusion that none of those with whom I’m working have hope that they can handle having a home. They are afraid of failing.

Also, when someone has been homeless a long time, they have all their senses and efforts and mindset focused on survival. They wake up hungry and need to find a safe place to go to the bathroom. They need something to drink and eat. They need a place to sit or be where they won’t get in trouble and where they can get some shade and they have to figure out where their meal will come from. All of that is true in our community where there is no shelter.

Once the get housed, they are no longer wondering where can they go to the bathroom safely, where can the get food and water. So they have freed up mind space.

That is so hard for them, because then memories about the trauma they have experienced, or the losses that have happened whom they have been outside (such as losing their mom and not being able to attend her funeral), or about when they feared for their life at night at the snap of a branch. They think about when they lost their kids to CPS and they were adopted by others and they are filled with regret.

That all comes crashing in and they feel overwhelmed and lonely and triggered.

Also they have survivor’s guilt. They can’t bear the thought of their friends who are stuck outside while they are indoors in the cool or warm place.

Also, some are like the Lion with a thorn stuck in it’s paw. The Lion thinks the solution will hurt more than the current predicament so it lashed out and rejects help.

Those are some of the reasons people’s efforts to help them fail.

There has to be insight into the fact that housing alone does not solve homelessness. They need the support of the community to check on them and help them transition.

So many have learning disabilities and some of those use drugs. They may be too unsure if they can handle it. They may have lost hope that they can handle it and don’t even have a concept that there may be organizations to assist them to help them be successful.

To be honest, in my opinion, I don’t like the term “vagrant.”

Your article doesn’t address the lack of hope as a possible reason for them to be stuck on the streets and sounds as if the term vagrant is synonymous with the term “riff raff.”

The term “riff raff” means refuse or rubbish. Our unsheltered homeless are not rubbish.

They are people who are sleeping outside who may have lost hope. They need hope and someone to be there for them when they are housed, and they need to know someone will be there to help them – not judge them.

That’s my opinion. Thank you for listening.

Last edited 5 months ago by Tammy Chan
Charles O'Connell
Charles O'Connell
Reply to  Tammy Chan
9 days ago

Ms. Chan’s comment is very well written and particularly worth considering since it comes from a professional outreach worker who is trained and experienced. Unfortunately, the author of this article is repeating myths and misinformation that are too pervasive and make it difficult for the community to accept solutions proven to be effective. The policies and programs being implemented by the All Neighbors Coalition, supported by the City and over 100 organizations collaborating to solve homelessness, have proven that individuals living unhoused needing help with mental health and addictions do wish to be housed when offered a housing solution with supportive services they can have confidence in. Trained outreach workers know how to overcome initial reluctance, gain trust and eventually locate stable housing with supportive services that help them sustain it..

Address Housing Costs
Address Housing Costs
5 months ago

We need a vacancy tax on empty homes.