With Central American kids streaming across Texas' border and nothing but partisan posturing on the horizon, Dallas County, under the leadership of County Judge Clay Jenkins and in partnership with the feds, is preparing to shelter thousands of unaccompanied minors from Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala, starting as soon as this summer.
The three proposed shelters to house unaccompanied Central American children are a vacant Parkland Hospital warehouse in the Medical District, Lamar Alternative Education Center in Grand Prairie, and Hulcy Middle School in Oak Cliff. Unfair Park traveled to each location to see for ourselves the future home of some 2,000 migrant kids.
Parkland Warehouse The warehouse is surrounded entirely by a large barbed wire fence. Its doors are rusted over, and an odd train track surrounds part of the building before disappearing into the grass on the other side of the fence. It's splattered periodically with graffitti, and its doors are chained shut. The concrete exterior lot is filled with broken glass, rocks, and tufts of weeds.
Hardly a welcoming sight for six-year-olds being transported across the state. But maybe that's the point? The shelter itself won't be temporary, but the kids' individual stays will likely not last longer than about 35 days, according to experts.
Lamar Alternative Education Center As we wrote earlier this week, Lamar Alternative Education Center used to be Lamar Elementary. It's part of the Grand Prairie Independent School District, and it officially closed its doors at the end of the 2013 school year because of low attendance. Now the school sits empty, save for some toppled chairs and busted school supplies, in a working-class neighborhood.
Ramzi Farah lives across the street. He is most concerned about his property value. He said the school grounds are often used by neighborhood families for community events and pick-up baseball and basketball games.
"It's a good cause, but when you put it in a neighborhood we have the right to know way beforehand," Farah told us. When Lamar Elementary was first converted to Lamar Alternative Education Center, the property value of neighborhood homes dropped, he said. "My property is going to dramatically drop value again. I mean do you want to live next to a facility that could have fences and cameras? It's going to look like living next to a prison. That's what people are mostly concerned about."
Grand Prairie ISD officials have said Lamar is not yet ready for occupants. But most neighborhood residents don't seem to have a problem with the proposed shelter, as long as lingering logistical questions are addressed.
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Hulcy Middle School Hulcy Middle School sits next to a large high school football stadium, and the groundskeeper told Unfair Park that Hulcy, since its closing in 2012, is used now for district training purposes. Which is maybe why its the nicest of the three sites, and why it was crawling with DISD cops on Tuesday.
Unlike Lamar, with its broken blinds and mildewed flooring, Hulcy is a well-maintained building. The front entryway still proudly displays the accomplishments of its long-gone students. The manicured hallways present a tidy array of educational posters, and the floors are gleaming. Someone has been tending to the school -- still sopping janitorial carts are quietly tucked in corners throughout the building.
But Hulcy Middle School is the only building that has seen any protestation -- for, strangely enough, its shoddy facilities. Eric Williams, a local independent candidate for Congress, organized a protest on Saturday against Hulcy being used. He says that the school isn't a good place to house the kids, because of an alleged risk of mold, asbestos, and lead. Judge Jenkins has announced that the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services will inspect Hulcy before it opens as a shelter.
Laquasha Mac, a resident of the Oak Cliff area, told NBC 5 at the protest that she doesn't want these kids in her neighborhood because of the risk. "I honestly do believe that we should find other options, better options," she says. "Like Highland Park is a great area."