Bum's rush

As downtown's upscale residents find themselves surrounded by an army of street people, many wish these 'dopers and crackheads' would move on -- or at least find a toilet

Given all the renovations in the Cedars, more well-to-do settlers are expected to move in, their wagon trains pulled by Chevy Tahoes and Ford Explorers, freighted with leather sofas and wide-screen TVs. On pure economic grounds, the sod-busters are destined to win.

And while for the moment the homeless are holding the high ground in the streets, tensions are beginning to rise as the classes collide. Some beleaguered upscale residents are calling for changes in the way the city handles its homeless population.

As always with the "nonconforming homeless," as the service professionals call them, there are far more problems than solutions, more losers than winners.

Homeless gather outside the Dallas International Street Church on Ervay Street.
Mark Graham
Homeless gather outside the Dallas International Street Church on Ervay Street.
Bishop T. Wright Johnson (second from left) from the Johnson Christian Center prays with the homeless after providing a meal for them.
Mark Graham
Bishop T. Wright Johnson (second from left) from the Johnson Christian Center prays with the homeless after providing a meal for them.

Two blocks east of Weisfeld's arts center, Tony Miglini has created an urban home in a cool gray stucco building with nearly 4,000 square feet of living space, soaring ceilings, abstract paintings, a high-tech media room, and a kitchen in granite and steel. It's on the tax rolls for nearly a quarter of a million dollars.

"I love living downtown -- everything except the homeless, and they're so bad they're going to drive me out," says Miglini, a 28-year-old who describes his occupation as "having some investments and doing some producing." Sitting at his serving bar, fielding calls on his cell phone, Miglini flips through photos of his life as a downtown resident and property owner, a member of the inner-city avant-garde. One snapshot shows a pile of syringes in his gutter. There's another of a broken window in his SUV. Another of a dozen men loitering just around the corner. One time, he says as he flips the pictures, a homeless man chased his girlfriend into the house, informing her along the way of all the things he'd like to do to her. Then there's the human excrement, the public sex in his courtyard, and the extra $45,000 he spent to wall off the front of his building, install security cameras, and secure his parking area.

Miglini's misfortune, he says, is living in the apex of the homeless Bermuda Triangle -- between the First Presbyterian Church-run Stewpot, the city-run Day Resource Center, and the old Union Gospel Mission, where the homeless still mass to catch mission buses that run to its present location on Irving Boulevard. "The problem is, the homeless have more rights than I do," he says, insisting that the issue is not rich vs. poor but right vs. wrong. "They're allowed to do what they want. Nobody wants to hurt their feelings."

At a time when crime is down around the city, car break-ins are so bad on his block that his friends have stopped coming to visit, he says. He leaves his own car unlocked because "they break a window and cost you 300 bucks just to steal 35 cents." Some of the damage is so blatant, Miglini has begun to suspect that the homeless are deliberately targeting new residents in an effort to drive them out. "I see some of it as a vendetta, like what's going on in the Mission District [in San Francisco]. They do not want anyone coming into the area. They think it's their area. Stay out."

Last year, Miglini put his concerns -- and home photos -- in a letter to Mayor Ron Kirk, and he was put in touch with several city officials in charge of the city's homeless programs. "Their attitude was, you should be a lot more compassionate and maybe the shit on the sidewalk wouldn't bother you so much. They told me to start donating my time to the homeless.

"I'll tell you, I do a lot for charitable causes...I don't consider these guys one of them. For them, being without a home is a chosen occupation. It's their career."

About seven blocks southeast of Miglini's house, architect Gwen Gaylen and her husband have purchased a nondescript warehouse on Harwood Street, moved in, and begun renovating the building into lofts. She likes to call the area SODO, for south of downtown. They aren't big players, like some others moving into the same quadrant, people such as nightclub developer Spencer Taylor, who is putting a Gilley's entertainment complex on Lamar Street south of I-30; or Matthews Southwest Corp., which is converting the massive red-brick Sears catalog buildings further south on Lamar into 450 loft apartments, plus restaurants and shops; or the city, which is putting its new $59 million police headquarters on donated land on the same strip.

Gaylen's top concern is narrow and about as hot a button as you can push in the Bible Belt. Simply put, she doesn't think the homeless should be fed in the streets. "There are consequences to the neighborhood -- litter, loitering. All they are doing is enabling the street lifestyle with absolutely no strings attached. Just as if they were handing them money, they're supporting their drug habits." The feedings tend to concentrate the homeless in her neighborhood, she says -- a "feeding the pigeons" dynamic applied to street folk.

"People get a good feeling by coming down to my neighborhood from North Dallas to feed the homeless when they wouldn't tolerate having homeless people where they live," she says. "People in these churches have to come to my neighborhood to feel good about themselves being charitable."

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