Dallas' Homeless Turn To The Bridge for Food, Shelter and a New Start

A silver bracelet dangles from her wrist as she clasps her cell phone in her left hand. She wears sparkling gold sandals, which reveal freshly painted maroon toenails. Her black sleeveless blouse and pressed blue jeans look recently laundered.

Denise Way looks nothing like the stereotypical homeless person—soiled, weathered, beaten down by life—and this early June afternoon, she has an appointment. It's her weekly meeting with Kevelyn Oaks, her care manager at The Bridge, the innovative homeless assistance center on the southeastern edge of downtown Dallas.

Aside from her appearance, there's something else that sets Way apart from the vast majority of The Bridge's homeless, who its staff refer to as "guests." She doesn't have a mental illness, drug addiction or criminal record.

Ending homelessness in Dallas seems like some liberal pipe dream
—until you step into the city’s new shelter
Hal Samples
Ending homelessness in Dallas seems like some liberal pipe dream —until you step into the city’s new shelter
After losing her 20-year job as an accounting manager, Denise Way struggled to find work and became part of a growing number of homeless seeking assistance from The Bridge because of the recession.
Hal Samples
After losing her 20-year job as an accounting manager, Denise Way struggled to find work and became part of a growing number of homeless seeking assistance from The Bridge because of the recession.

She could be your friend, neighbor or aunt. But for the grace of God and the recession, she could be you.

Yet Way has found herself among the thousands who have flocked to The Bridge since it opened in May 2008. The $17.4 million facility is the key component in achieving Dallas' 10-year plan to eradicate homelessness by 2014. It's often referred to as a one-stop service area for the homeless, providing not only food and shelter, but also access to care managers like Oaks, onsite health care facilities, legal aid and job assistance as it seeks to move its guests from street chaos to shelter care to independent living.

In an era replete with the frustrated bond-package promises of the Trinity River Corridor Project—the contentious high-speed toll road is massively over budget, citizens have seen little of its parks and amenities, and its signature Margaret Hunt Hill Bridge won't have access ramps when completed, making it the Bridge to Nowhere—Dallas' homeless shelter is a city-subsidized success story.

From its troubled beginning, The Bridge faced fierce opposition from a business community opposed to its downtown location, criticism from other social service agencies at odds with its nonjudgmental philosophy toward its "guests" and nagging doubts about its ability to safely manage the crowds of homeless who at times seemed to overrun the facility. Yet in its first year of operation, The Bridge placed more than 400 people into housing and assisted nearly 800 with finding jobs.

"We wouldn't be around if we didn't hit it out of the park," says Mike Faenza, chief executive officer and president of the Metro Dallas Homeless Alliance, which operates The Bridge. "There was just too much pressure."

Council member Angela Hunt, who represents most of downtown, views the city's 18-year commitment to provide up to $3.5 million annually toward The Bridge's operating budget as tax dollars well spent. Its 2009 budget is projected at $7 million, with $1 million contributed by Dallas County and private donations solicited to cover the remaining gap. Historically, says Hunt, money has been spent on the homeless indirectly through their involvement in the jail, court and health care systems. Better to spend the money wisely, efficiently—where it can do the most good.

"What the assistance center does—and what it accomplished in its first year—is trying to use our funds in a smarter way so it's not an endless cycle and a black hole," she says. "We're actually changing people's lives so they're out of this homeless cycle."

Way's descent into homelessness began in January 2005, she says, three months shy of her 20-year anniversary at the Dallas office of Fulbright & Jaworski when the law firm fired her because she wasn't keeping up with her duties. Fulbright & Jaworski refused to comment, only confirming the dates of her employment, but Way admits that she may have pushed herself too quickly to return from taking a two-month leave of absence after she was diagnosed with diabetes in March 2004.

Landing a job as an accounting manager earning more than $60,000 a year at one of the largest law firms in the country was as easy as answering a newspaper ad, she says, but finding similar success nearly two decades later proved much more difficult. Divorced with no children and 51 years old, Way rigorously searched for jobs throughout the city, but she found no takers. Her entire 401(k) savings eventually dried up, and she became homeless for the first time last year, seeking shelter at the Austin Street Centre near Fair Park.

Way's parents died in the 1970s, so she reached out to her two sisters in Connecticut and Georgia for help, but both left her to fend for herself. She had no idea her relationships with them were so poor. "I thought it was cool until I really needed them."

Way's sister in Georgia has a daughter in Dallas, but her sister discouraged their relationship. "She doesn't want me to be involved with her daughter because she thinks I may pull her down."

A cousin in Washington, D.C., who pays Way's cell phone bill, stepped up and offered to pay for a room at the InTown Suites. And when Way found work in September 2008 at a car auction in Oak Cliff, her life appeared to be back on track.

Way's car, however, was repossessed in November, so she could no longer drive to work, and the rent at the InTown Suites became too much of a burden on her cousin. With her resources exhausted, Way became a guest at The Bridge in January.

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Beverly C
Beverly C

Welcome to the Obama world of unemployment. A world where this administration says they care about people but are destroying our society. How can this city spend what will turn into billions on this farce of a project for the Trinity river and yet we have so many other problems that are more important to the quality of life of the average Dallas citizen. Out tax dollars are being squandered here in Dallas and in Washington on PET projects of politicians while the people are loosing their jobs, their homes, their life savings, their dignity and their hope for the future.


I wonder what the PR firm behind this article was paid?

I also wonder why other non-profits in the area are able to provide the same services minus the huge payroll overhead at the Bridge.

John Jay
John Jay

It's very hard to say anything negative about a pseudo charitable organization. But you know me, I am able to force my way through it.

I am more of a math guy, $7,000,000 in operating expenses this year.... 400 people helped this year. That means $17,500 per person helped.

I will gladly take that $17500 and help a person get back on their feet. And with the remaining $16000 I will go buy two brand new wave runners.

Good lord. That is a lot of money. Luckily the tax payers are paying the bills, so it doesn't matter. It reminds me of running for city council and one of the folks I was running against said he didn't care how much the Hotel costs... as long it helped one person find a job. We should have just given that one guy the 500 Mill and called it a day.

Do the math. Seriously.Is it good to help people ABSOLUTELY, do we need places like this ABSOLUTELY, should we try to do more Absolutely, but if the tax payers were not paying the bill we would get relatively the same results with less money.

The government can't do anything without spending way too much to do it. I am huge Angela Hunt fan, but on this I think she should read the book "the law" by Bastiat, and she may come to understand that there is a big difference between philanthropy and misplaced philanthropy.

I attended an event and gave a donation to the shelter, had I known how much I was already being charged, I might have to reconsider.We also should remember when you subsidize something via the government you generally get more of it. For instance, we had a lower poverty rate prior to welfare than after it. I would bet that a year from now someone is going to say "the bridge has been so successful we need more of them, to accommodate the influx of people". Is this on the top of my list for how the City wastes money?No. But it's on the list.

Edward StJOhn
Edward StJOhn

I work with Denise at the Second Chance Cafe. She is a great worker in every way, and most would never guess that she had been homeless. The Stewpot employs several successful workers who are or were previously homeless. Each one is an ongoing success story. They are wonderful individuals and have earned their current position by taking many positive steps to get there. God bless them.


God is Good, All the time . All the time, God is so so Good! ;)