Wednesday, February 18, 2009

The Other Shoe Has Dropped!

The misery of waiting for bad news is over and this time the joke is on us. The Cedars Neighborhood Association voted 15 to 39 to oppose Central Dallas CDC’s proposal to redevelop 1011 S. Akard into 232 apartment units, fifty of which would be reserved for people who had been homeless. The proposal also included building 72 new market rate units.

It’s a bitter disappointment for us, but at least the people that work at Central Dallas CDC will still have a home to return to this evening. And I, at least, find it easier to deal with the disappointment, once it’s known, rather than dreading the news that is coming.

For fifty people, sleeping on the streets, or in shelters, or in a makeshift camp down in one of the creek beds, it means any chance of relief must wait another year. It means at least another year of scrambling for shelter beds by 6:00 p.m. and scrambling to gather all your earthly goods by 6:00 a.m. so you can walk the streets for twelve hours.

It means owning only what you can carry. It means living in the freezing cold of a winter night and sweltering through brutal heat of summer days. Without any place to call your own.

It means suffering, and illness, and maybe not surviving.

For at least another year.

Dallas has 6,000 homeless people. Only 1,200 residences would let the city end homelessness (because once on their feet, people would move on). The stated policy of the city is to build those places to live. The cost of providing a place for people to live is the same as the costs of having people on the street.

Let me say that again: The cost to treat people humanely is no more than what we spend now.

How could I ever explain to fifty people sleeping in the wet cold this evening, that not only do we have no place for them, we won’t be building any place for them soon. Not because we don’t have the money; not because we don’t know how to make a place for them, but because, once again, a couple of dozen people have said: Not In My Back Yard! Because they would rather have a vacant building wrapped in razor wire than let people trying to rebuild their life live in the same neighborhood as they do.

How can we let 39 people, in a city of more than a million residents, decide that fifty of their fellow citizens must wait another year, or more, before coming in out of the cold? And let that happen again and again until there is no place left to go.

In the last fifteen years, Dallas has started construction on only fifty new units that will provide places for the homeless to call home. It doesn’t seem to matter that the studies all show that permanent supportive housing doesn’t damage property values or increase crime. It doesn’t matter how many compromises we make to meet the concerns of the neighborhood. It doesn’t matter than the alternative is empty buildings and razor wire.

The answer is always: No, not here. A few people shout and all the political will of the city disappears.

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