Dallas' The Bridge Homeless Center's Progressive Approach May Actually Make a Difference
The southern edge of downtown Dallas has grown quiet and dank before tonights storm, and theres not a homeless person in sight. Most have sought cover in shelters, under bridges or in the construction sites that dot this side of town. But that doesnt stop Mike Faenza, on this blustery April night, from tracking down anyone left to the elements. The wiry-haired 57-year-old is the president and CEO of Metro Dallas Homeless Alliance, which on May 20 is scheduled to open one of the most progressive homeless centers in the country. Although The Bridge is the citys answer to homelessness, it is every bit Faenzas baby. But all his planning and politicking will mean nothing if he cant convince Dallas homeless population to choose his shelter over homelessness.
Combing the streets, he walks past the citys Day Resource Center on South Ervay Street, a health care and counseling clinic that began to double as a night shelter after other local charities ran out of space. Tonight, a handful of people are curled up on mats on the centers floor, squeezed in tightly. Faenza lowers his head as he walks by, noting that the facility was not built to be a shelter. But he doesnt stop. Hes looking for those who remain on the outside.
A few moments later, he sees a man ambling on the other side of the street. Hes young, with a baggy overcoat and a pair of antenna headphones strapped over his ears. Faenza crosses toward him saying, Excuse me, sir. Id like to talk to you for a moment. The man speeds up.
Hes scared, Faenza says. People make a big deal about homeless people bothering us, but here I am bothering him.
Faenza doesnt pursue and keeps walking toward downtowns core. Theres another man in the distance with his shirt off. Hes stretching his arms in the air, holding a white T-shirt in one hand. He sits down on a flight of concrete steps, breathing hard and clenching and unclenching his fists. After a few moments, he lights a cigarette.
Hi. Can I bum a smoke? asks Faenza, searching for a way to relate.
Sorry, its his last one, he says. He puts his shirt on; he was lifting weights.
Faenza asks him if he has somewhere to stay tonight—a place to wait out the storm. The man whose name is Gary points to the end of the block, saying he's got a box spring over there. It's in a hollowed-out building where a few of the man's companions are sleeping, wrapped up like mummies in blankets. Faenza prods further, asking the man if he'd rather sleep in a shelter. It's the same burning question that brings Faenza outdoors on many nights since he became head of the homeless alliance a year and a half ago: Why do some homeless people prefer the streets to sanctuaries?
Gary says all the shelters he's tried have turned him away. But Faenza knows the answer is more complicated than that.
Some folks bristle at the religious undertones in the city's charities. Some hate being ushered out at 6 a.m. to work. Some want privacy, are jittery, paranoid. Some want their bottle next to them. Whatever the reason, Faenza hopes to overcome it with the city's soon-to-open homeless assistance center. The Bridge will be a sleep-in campus that will target the shelter-resistant chronically homeless with the goal of turning them into functioning people with apartments and jobs.
This will be no small task. By federal definition, the chronically homeless are those unaccompanied adults who have a disabling condition (such as substance abuse disorder or a serious mental illness) and have been continuously homeless for a year or more, or have had at least four episodes of homelessness within the past three years. Many of these 1,000 or so individuals in Dallas have AIDS, severe depression or schizophrenia. They drink, they smoke crack, they defecate in public. They are ornery and mean, silent and withdrawn. Unlike the city's 5,000 temporarily homeless, the hard-core haven't made it off the streets, in no small part because other shelters won't take them. Yet as Faenza likes to tell his staff, the more times a person has been in jail, been arrested or beaten up, the more welcome he will be at the center.
"We want this place to be very slow to reject anybody," Faenza says. "You don't have to be likable to deserve services. You can be aggravating and annoying and still deserve services....They are not going to act grateful. But you can't lecture. You can't coerce. You can't shame people."
Faenza has no trouble making heartfelt arguments defending the rights of the homeless but feels slightly out of place engaging the corporate types that his job demands. A tireless homeless advocate for more than 35 years, he plans to move into an apartment adjacent to The Bridge, and he'll spend several nights in the shelter. He believes the homeless are just like everyone else. His non-judgmental attitude toward homelessness—he treats it as a disease from which all can recover—is almost revolutionary by Dallas standards.
But so is The Bridge. Its philosophy is a simple one: Treat the homeless like consumers. It's the same philosophy Faenza cultivated in 1988 as the chief of Dallas' Mental Health Association. It's the same philosophy he presented to The Bridge's management team, explaining that the center's success hinged on treating the homeless like customers on a cruise ship, with each getting to choose a treatment plan from a menu of guest services. And a concierge would be at their disposal to direct them in those choices.
But Faenza's ideas aren't widely accepted in Dallas social services circles. The Bridge represents a significant departure from the tough-love shelters throughout the city, where if a homeless person doesn't get a job or get into treatment within a matter of days, he's expected to pay his way or leave. That's the bottom line, several advocates say; otherwise, you're enabling homelessness.
At the Salvation Army, a homeless person is welcome to stay for three nights, no questions asked. But after that, he must meet with a case manager, determine a treatment plan, find a job and pay $7 a night to continue sleeping and eating there. "If we simply allowed access around the clock with no questions asked, then people might say, 'I am happy not working. I like staying here watching TV. They feed me. I have a place to get a shower,'" says Pat Patey, Dallas' Salvation Army spokesman. "We believe people can do better than that."
Faenza insists that the culture at The Bridge is only the first step in revolutionizing the way Dallas deals with homelessness. Next comes 1,200 units of permanent supported housing—apartments linked to social services—and then a legislative agenda to secure more state money for the homeless. What's at stake for Faenza—and what he's come to see as the pinnacle of his career—is an end to homelessness as we know it. "It seemed like a gargantuan task [taking the job]," he says. "But there was the possibility that I could do more good than I had ever done."
It's the same gamble for Dallas. But for city leaders, it wasn't always about guest services. And for some in the business community, it still isn't.
Talk about ending homelessness in Dallas surfaced five years ago when transients had run out of places to go. Since 1990 the homeless population has doubled to 6,000 and spread outside of the downtown core to the Katy Trail, Turtle Creek and White Rock Lake. The number of shelters, on the other hand, remained the same. People set up camps under bridges and behind shopping centers, but the bulk stayed downtown, washing up in the library and sleeping in tents outside of the Day Resource Center. At the same time, developers sought to re-energize downtown with apartments and condominiums and complained that the homeless were scaring off tenants. Heeding the call of President George W. Bush, then-Mayor Laura Miller convened a task force in 2003 to end homelessness in 10 years, and she appointed Tom Dunning, her opponent in her first mayoral election, as the homeless czar.
Dunning's main order of business was to develop plans for a sleep-in facility to replace the dilapidated Day Resource Center. "It was a fire trap," he says. "The commodes overflowed. It showed a lack of caring for those who cannot speak for themselves." The task force's inquiry revealed a portrait of intractable homelessness in Dallas. Hundreds of homeless were locked up in the county jail. And the prisons weren't much better, releasing 25 people to the streets each month. While the overall homeless population had doubled, the chronically homeless had increased six-fold, from 200 to around 1,200. There was a shortage of shelter space and affordable housing. And previous attempts at solving the problem had backfired. One program, which gives homeless people keys to their own apartments, ended in chaos. "In six months, many of the apartments had been trashed, the furniture had been sold, and the copper had been ripped out," Dunning says. "What we found from talking about chronic homelessness is that once a person has been on the streets for many years, it's hard to transition them into single-room occupancy or an apartment without proper counseling."
The task force settled on a campus setting for the new center where people could eat, sleep and have access to services. The idea—a kind of shopping mall of social services—was gaining national popularity, and centers had sprung up in Miami and San Diego. The Dallas facility would have a courtyard with plenty of natural light. "We did not want it to be an enclosed environment," Dunning says. "Many chronically homeless people have a fear of being in an enclosed environment." The task force also envisioned that the homeless, by availing themselves of the services offered at the center, would be primed for re-entry into regular life.
Next came the controversial task of finding a location for the center. The task force examined six sites and finally decided on the southern end of downtown at the intersection of St. Paul and Corsicana streets. If Dallas was going to make a dent in the problem, the facility had to be placed where the largest concentration of homeless existed, says Dunning. "It was best to be downtown."
But the decision elicited ire from the business community; dozens of downtown enterprises, including Urban Market and Ace Parking, organized to fight the project. Calling themselves the Heart of Dallas Partnership, they opposed the 2005 city bond election, which, if successful, would earmark $23.8 million to fund construction of a new center. "It seemed to me that we were investing all this money and trying to revitalize downtown and that it would be a good idea to get that thing out of downtown," recalls Jerry Hamilton, a local developer who spearheaded the Partnership. "It is a downer when the place starts to resemble Skid Row with all kinds of vagrants and derelict people just kind of hanging out and loitering and panhandling and committing anti-social acts and urinating in doorways."
But the bond election passed handily. The initiative had the support of Miller, but Dunning credits the victory to the generosity of the voters. "Even those people not physically supporting the homeless are supportive of the city trying to help them," he says.
Also in 2005, Mike Rawlings, a former Pizza Hut executive, replaced Dunning as the city's homeless czar. The following year, the Dallas City Council selected Metro Dallas Homeless Alliance, a coalition of local homeless agencies, to plan and later manage the new homeless center. Metro Dallas' board in turn chose Faenza to head The Bridge.
"There were two things specific to Mike [Faenza]," Rawlings says. "One, he'd been in Dallas before, working with the county jail, so people in the mental health programs know Mike. Two, his whole life has been around mental health."
It had been 13 years since Faenza left Dallas for Washington, D.C., to lead a national mental health advocacy organization, but local groups still remember his unyielding advocacy. As the former president of the Dallas Mental Health Association, Faenza once packed the Dallas County Commissioners Court with protesters to get commissioners to fund a mental health program in the jail. He got his way. "In Dallas, Mike was very well-known," says Dr. Joel Feiner, director of the Dallas VA Medical Center's Comprehensive Homeless Center. "He wasn't bashful. And in some ways, some of us miss those days. There was an urgency to our efforts."
When Faenza returned to Dallas, he hadn't lost any of his zeal. It fell upon him to find funding for the mentally ill homeless, but few mental health organizations, including those with whom he previously had worked, wanted to allocate money to the homeless, especially if it meant less funding for other programs. So Faenza went to the Texas Legislature in 2007 after learning of a bill that would authorize $85 million statewide to fund psychiatric crisis intervention. Working with a lobbyist, he inserted a rider to the bill that would have diverted Dallas County's share of the fund to The Bridge. The legislation passed but without the rider. Still Faenza's tactics left some hard feelings within the local mental health community. "People said, 'This is a low-down trick,'" Faenza says. "But it established that I would be a tenacious advocate. Nobody doubts that."
Faenza next doubled the operating budget for The Bridge so that it would have case managers on site. At first, Rawlings balked, says Faenza, but he then came around and helped Faenza secure additional funding from the city. Of The Bridge's $6.4 million budget, the city kicked in $3.2 million, and the county gave another million, conditioned on seeing a reduction in the jail's homeless detainees. Faenza must raise the balance of the budget from private donors.
Despite his vigorous funding pursuits, Faenza has done his best to preserve the unlikely coalition of social services, business and government entities, whose interests, diverse as they are, have enabled The Bridge to come into being. The county's need to reduce its jail population, the city's need to curb the growth of its most destitute group and the business community's need to get panhandlers off the streets created a perfect storm to address the issue. "The stars are aligned," Faenza says. "It's a golden moment where people want to do something."
"This is a major step for the city of Dallas," Rawlings adds. "At 2014 we need to be at zero. That's what people don't get. We're not here to manage the problem. We are here to end it."
Before homelessness in Dallas can end, The Bridge has to open, and the center's ribbon-cutting ceremony has been delayed more than once. Construction glitches, as well as Faenza's perpetual state of urgency, have heightened the level of tension surrounding the project.
"He is like the Energizer bunny," says Feiner, who is also a former colleague of Faenza's. "He is very focused. And I think he sets a standard of work that probably not everyone can reach. People may find him exasperating because of this single-mindedness, but no one can ever say he has hidden agendas."
Late to a management meeting in March, Faenza needs a cigarette, tearing the filter off before he smokes. He loads his coffee with four packs of saccharin, and then he drives helter-skelter to a facility in Coppell where his management team is planning to give him an update on The Bridge.
When he arrives at the meeting, his eight administrators, two of whom were formerly homeless, are seated in a large conference room. They're eating tuna sandwiches, and one of them nudges a sack lunch toward him. He ignores it, too busy to eat. "A lot of stuff is challenging to get done," he says, now seated at the table. "A lot of us are new. I hope that folks feel candid about saying, 'This is what I need.'"
He is met with silence.
Then one person thanks the rest of the group for their work on the center. It's not the frank discussion Faenza had hoped for. He tries again. "There must be an area where it's hard for you or you have confusion or need some help?"
Finally, another person speaks up. "I have some questions about the signage at the center."
"We can get bids on that," Faenza answers. "Things have to get done fast."
The Bridge's manager, Jay Dunn, has some questions about staffing. At the center, a barber shop and cosmetology room will take care of the grooming needs of the homeless, that is, if he can find the people to work there. "If we don't find people...in the next week and a half or two weeks, we won't be ready for opening."
"I cut my own hair," Faenza jokes. "I could do it."
The meeting wraps up. While returning downtown, Faenza talks about hiring a staff that understands the "guest services" philosophy of The Bridge. If they buy into it, he might avoid the crippling turnover that plagues those who work with the homeless. He gave his management team a list of difficult scenarios that could transpire at The Bridge when dealing with the chronically homeless: The police deliver an angry person...A consumer spits in the face of a staff member... A staff person is ridiculed by a consumer, dozens of people laugh, and the staffer bursts into tears.
"We have to promote a culture that the staff will respect," Faenza says. "It's not easy to work day after day after day with people who never thank you—who seem the opposite of thankful. But that can't drive the staff's behavior on the surface. It could be too much for them to take. None of this is easy."
For Faenza, it's never been easy. Seemingly too shy to become an advocate, he hated speaking in front of his class at school and spent much of his childhood in the small Indiana town where he was raised trying to blend in. "Because I had some of these struggles, I became more aware of people outside of myself. I thought of how other people were feeling: people who were poor, people who didn't have nice clothes, people who weren't white. It came to a time in my late adolescence that I decided to help people who were down and out."
He describes the early part of his career as a "one-man social service agency," mobilizing efforts to fight unsafe housing in the East Chicago projects. When he saw people in the same neighborhood suffering from poor nutrition, he wrote letters to a food stamp agency and was admonished by the board president of his nonprofit for stirring up trouble. He's riled many people over the years, he says. "I don't try to compromise what is right for political expedience."
"He is a street fighter and a scrapper, and he will stand up for the poor, the homeless and the discriminated-against," adds Charles Ray, former president of the National Council of Community Behavioral Health Care, and a friend of Faenza's. Ray describes Faenza as being so driven by the big picture that he sometimes gets in his own way. For example, Faenza once missed giving the keynote lecture for one of Ray's national conferences because he was late. "He is so possessed with ideas that there are times when you want to say, 'Mike, I am going to give you an aide. Just like a general. I want to give you an aide de camp that takes care of the details.'"
With The Bridge's opening just a few weeks away, Faenza works late into the night and chain-smokes when not in meetings. The center's ribbon-cutting will provide some stress relief, but it will also put another problem into play—this one with the business community.
Over the past year, Downtown Dallas, a business advocacy group promoting downtown, has worked to make downtown a more disagreeable place for the homeless. While the group has long supported The Bridge and will provide security personnel for the facility, it also views the new center as a means to get the homeless off the streets and panhandlers out of the faces of downtown residents, workers and visitors. Last year, Downtown Dallas lobbied the city council to pass an ordinance that prohibits panhandling after sunset, if within 25 feet of an ATM or bank, a pay phone, a self-service car wash or a fuel pump, a DART stop, or an outdoor cafe. It's also illegal to ask someone for money who is putting coins into a parking meter. "It flies in the face of making downtown a live, work and play place," explains John Crawford, the organization's president. Offending vagrants are typically jailed and then released, only to be incarcerated again later. But now, Crawford says, with The Bridge opening, "We'll have a place to take them."
Not so fast, says Faenza. As part of the "guest services" culture at the center, it's essential that nobody be forced into the facility, nor be given a take-it-or-leave-it choice between jail and The Bridge. If The Bridge is equated with punishment or consequences, it won't help. "There must be some kind of misunderstanding," Faenza says, noting that he's had several conversations with the police, the county, and with Downtown Dallas regarding his hopes for treatment of the homeless. "People see homelessness as someone unpleasant asking them for money. Blaming people and bullying people doesn't work on any level, not for me."
With the opening of The Bridge, Downtown Dallas expects the city to expand the panhandling ordinance to outlaw the practice altogether. Crawford says he has a "gentleman's guarantee" with the city that it will do so.
When asked about any change in protocol, the Dallas Police Department says its officers won't behave any differently. "When [The Bridge] does open, it is not going to change anything," says DPD spokesman Sergeant Gil Cerda.
Although Faenza sees the futility in breaking ties with Downtown Dallas, he is against expanding the panhandling ordinance or the forced placement of the homeless in The Bridge. It's better, he says, to work together. "I've tried to say what is right, to the point where people trust me. Would I want to talk to John Crawford and say, 'This is terrible, this doesn't work. This is bad news?' It's not appropriate for me to say this to John Crawford. We have the same goal. He's not a black-hearted guy. We both have strong values. And we want our partnership to have movement."
If the partnership can move forward, Faenza, Rawlings and The Bridge may be on the cusp of creating "a national prototype" for homeless shelters, says Ray. "If it can work in Dallas, it can work in a lot of other places."
It's a Thursday afternoon, five weeks before the center is scheduled to open. Faenza places a hard hat on his head and strides toward the back entrance of The Bridge. Just three blocks away from the Dallas Farmers Market, the center towers over its neighboring buildings. The Bridge has the feel of a university; five brick buildings encircle a courtyard. The most prominent one has a clock tower and a rotunda that will operate as a cafeteria; meals will be provided by the Stewpot, one of Dallas' oldest soup kitchens. Faenza crosses through the quad area, where construction workers are laying rebar, and he reaches the center's main entrance, a grassy area flanked by two concrete columns. Soon, a sign reading "The Bridge" will hang between them.
Faenza points to the entryway, and with the pride of an inventor sharing his life's work, he describes the moment that a homeless person will enter The Bridge. "They'll be on the street," he says, "and they'll take a look inside and say, 'It looks really nice in there.' Then they'll walk through the gate." Once inside, the homeless person will walk through a metal detector or will be carefully wanded; Faenza hopes to avoid any jarring physical contact, lest jittery guests be scared away. Illegal drugs will be turned over to the police, alcohol flushed down the center's toilets and knives kept in storage for retrieval once the homeless person leaves.
After the security screening, the individual will meet with a concierge of sorts, who will ask for identifying information. "Someone can come in and say, 'I want to have a meal' or 'I'd like a place to sleep' or 'I don't want to mess with paperwork,'" Faenza says. "With people who don't want to give information or are skeptical of getting involved, the key is to not discourage them. The idea is to bring people in who have a hard time being anywhere else."
Depending on what the person asks for, the concierge will direct him to the cafeteria or the main services center in the clock tower building. If the person is intoxicated or mentally ill, the concierge will make contact with a mental health worker who later will meet with the person and gauge whether he's willing to enter treatment. "It takes extra time, but it's taking people where they are and not making them fit some mold," Faenza explains. "They would not be here if they didn't need something."
A construction worker interrupts Faenza and asks him to move toward a white brick building with gaping doorways like a massive, multi-car garage. "I don't want you to get hit by rebar," the worker says. Faenza backs onto the steps of the facility, explaining that this is the pavilion, a shelter that will hold up to 300 people. As the largest sleeping area on campus, the pavilion is meant to attract the hard-core homeless—especially those reluctant to enter a shelter. It will be a "low-demand" environment: A homeless person doesn't have to pay to get in, commit to treatment or take part in a religious ceremony. With garage doors to let in the breeze or keep out the rain, the pavilion is meant to mimic sleeping outdoors—another draw for the shelter-resistant. But Faenza also plans a degree of privacy in the pavilion: Each person will sleep on a cot surrounded by a small partition, and the men will be separated from the women. There will be TVs here, says Faenza, surveying the room. "A lot of people watch TV when they go home to relax. The idea is to make them feel comfortable and safe enough to get them involved in services. It's a 180 from the 'you gotta earn your way by doing things right' mentality."
That's the mentality at the Union Gospel Mission, a free shelter serving men at its Irving location and women and children at its Dallas location. Men are welcome to stay there as long as they like but are bused to day labor centers at 5:30 in the morning and are expected to check back in at 6:30 at night. If a person isn't enrolled in a Christian program, he won't be guaranteed a bed if the center is crowded. Like the Salvation Army, those who are intoxicated are not welcome. "We try to walk a pretty tight line in terms of making sure that the person will not be disruptive," says William Thompson, the Mission's executive director. "If a guy had a drink, we would ask ourselves if the situation is manageable.If it isn't, we would ask that person not to come in." Thompson says he'll take a wait-and-see approach as to the efficacy of The Bridge. "I think it's going to take a concerted effort on everyone's part to monitor what goes on there." Thompson is most concerned about homeless drifters, those who aren't committed to getting their lives back on track, but who obviously need help. If The Bridge feeds and houses them without expectations, he says, it may reinforce their lack of commitment. Thompson doesn't buy the notion of the homeless consumer, saying they may never opt in to social services if given the choice. "I feel for those people," he says. "They may not have the ability to make the decision one way or another. It will be difficult."
Faenza's contention, of course, is that these are the people with the greatest needs, and The Bridge will welcome them with open arms.
Turning to face the courtyard, he glances at the first few trees that already have been planted. "Isn't this beautiful? Being in this business 35 years and seeing this? This is amazing to me. This will be the only place homeless people will go that is open 24 hours. It's not like you gotta stand through this long line. It's not like early in the morning, you gotta leave," he says. "But anyone can leave at any time. The idea is to get people involved. We'll help people with transportation. We'll have DART bus passes. They'll be able to see a doctor for a health screening. They'll have a meeting for medication with a psychiatrist. Or they might sit at a table and make friends with someone."
Faenza crosses the courtyard, heading toward the main services center called the "Welcome Building," which resembles a student center at a university. There's recessed lighting to simulate natural sunlight, benches, tables and a large, concrete reception desk where another concierge will direct the homeless toward appointments or classes. "Here," he says, pointing to the wall behind the desk, "we'll have a list of services." At the center, nine different agencies, including the City of Dallas, will provide the homeless with counseling, medical care, legal services, veterans' resources and employment assistance. The most important thing, Faenza says, is that the organizations operate as a single, seamless entity. "We need to avoid making it feel institutional," he says. "The theme is, 'How can we help you recover from homelessness?'"
The Welcome Building also hosts the barber shop, a library and classrooms. There's a woman's room with a "Secret Garden" patio and a playground, though children will be referred to other shelters since The Bridge will focus on adults. There's a free laundry room where volunteers will help, but the homeless will ultimately be expected to launder their own clothes. "Part of the thing is nurturing; the other part is responsibility," Faenza says. "At baseline you need to be able to take care of your own clothes." The same philosophy goes for the kennel in an adjacent building, where the homeless will be able to keep their dogs.
Faenza walks upstairs to an airy floor that looks like a call center. Dozens of cubicles sit side-by-side. When they are completed, each will hold a cot, reserved for a homeless person who started at the pavilion and then committed himself to a serious counseling plan. There are 62 of these so-called "transitional" cubicles. When a homeless person reaches the next level of independence by finding employment, they will move into a dorm room, which they will share with a roommate. There are 24 of these rooms, the final step before moving into permanent housing, and an additional 14 rooms for homeless who are convalescing after a hospital stay.
Before Faenza ends the tour, he looks around and smiles. "It's really beautiful here with all the light."
But none of this will matter, not the lighting or the Welcome Building or the cruise ship mentality if the homeless choose to stay on the streets.
Back downtown with storm clouds gathering, Faenza accompanies Gary to the shell of a building where his box spring is set up.
Of the several shelters that have turned him away tonight, Gary claims that one cost too much, another barred people under 50, a third closed to lodgers at 8 p.m. and a fourth was full. So he has tried to sleep inside. He then trails off into a jumble of complaints against the Day Resource Center, the mayor, the police and the contractor who hired him for a day and didn't pay him. "I'm classified as one of those chronically homeless people," he explains. He's 39 and an ex-convict. "I've been out here for 10 years."
Faenza asks if he'd be willing to go to The Bridge when it opens.
"I'm going to see what kinds of services they have. I'll try to take advantage of it. But..." Gary clasps his hands together, sounding a bit paranoid. "It's like—they're holding the funds back."
Faenza re-focuses Gary's attention on tonight. "At the Life center, could they take you in?" He's referring to the Dallas Life Foundation, a shelter behind the convention center. "Could you get in, if you had the money?"
"I'd really like something to eat." He says he's only had a slice of ham today.
"If you had the money to go wherever you'd like, where would you eat?"
"McDonald's. I'd get me some burgers and fries."
"You want food, but in terms of sleeping, are you OK?" Faenza presses.
"I've got blankets," he says.
Gary hunches through a hole in a chain-link fence, entering to retrieve his army jacket. He'll be right back, he says. Faenza waits on the street, wary of the "No Trespassing" signs that mark the structure. When Gary returns, Faenza asks him one last time whether he'll try out The Bridge when it opens.
"I'll be glad to," Gary says. "A person like me can take advantage of that situation. And I don't mind working."
"I'll see you over there," Faenza says, handing Gary a $20 bill for food. "I'll be over there a lot."
Get the This Week's Top Stories Newsletter
Every week we collect the latest news, music and arts stories — along with film and food reviews and the best things to do this week — so that you’ll never miss Observer's biggest stories.
- Houston vs Dallas: How Super Bowl Performers Stack Up
Thu., Feb. 11, 7:00pm
Fri., Feb. 12, 8:00pm
Sat., Feb. 13, 2:00pm
Sat., Feb. 13, 7:00pm
- A Texas Doctor Again Puts on His Hat as Virus Hunter
- Why the Crackdown on K2 Among Downtown's Homeless Won't Work