The closure of Dallas' Tent City is turning into a game of whack-a-mole.
On Wednesday, city officials announced that it was beginning the process of closing two large homeless encampments, one under Interstate 30 and Haskell Avenue, the other beneath Interstate 45 at Coombs Street. Both sites have served as homeless camps for years, but they were tiny until this spring when the city cleared away Tent City, which at one point swelled to nearly 300 tents.
The explosion of the Coombs and Haskell encampments wasn't hard to foresee. During an April briefing in which the Dallas City Council grilled Metro Dallas Homeless Alliance president Cindy Crain on the plan to close Tent City only to discover that there wasn't one, Councilman Scott Griggs, among others, worried that a poorly thought out closure would merely result in displaced Tent City residents moving to other camps.
But officials never got around to securing other prominent sites, and even as workers were securing chain link to towering metal fence posts to seal off the final section of Tent City, displaced residents were migrating en masse to the Coombs encampment. There are about 80 campsites there now. The Haskell camp has just above 90, according to a recent count by Our Calling, a nearby homeless ministry.
Crain, whose agency is the clearinghouse for $17 million in federal homelessness funds and who spearheaded the Tent City closure, is typically readily accessible and loquacious. On Wednesday she was uncharacteristically terse. Asked by text message about MDHA's involvement in the closure, she replied that "The city is the lead." Asked what was being done to ensure that residents of the Coombs and Haskell encampments didn't simply move to another encampment, her answer was the same: "The city is the lead."
So far, the city hasn't said much beyond a memo sent to the City Council on Wednesday by Alan Sims, an official with the city's housing department.
"Following the closure of the I-30/I-45 encampment (i.e. Tent City), other homeless encampments have surfaced," he wrote. He continued, "We have invoked the action guidelines from the previous closure that includes the placement of 'no trespassing' signs and scheduling of resources to close the encampments."
The Coombs encampment, which Sims describes as presenting the most pressing health and safety problems, will be taken down first, with the eviction process to begin by the middle of next week and the whole camp to be shut down by July 19. The Haskell closure will be scheduled later.
City spokeswoman Sana Syed said in an email that she can provide additional details on the closure plans following a meeting on the issue on Thursday.
The closure announcements come as the Dallas Commission on Homelessness, which Mayor Mike Rawlings created shortly after Tent City's closure, plods through the early stages of its search for long-term solutions. It's met a couple of times and held two forums to gather community input this week, with four more scheduled. The commission has yet to solve homelessness.
Which puts Dallas in the same boat it was in three months ago, when political pressure to do something about the mass of humanity camped beneath the highway overrode the fact that there was no place for the residents to go.
Wayne Walker, a pastor and founder of Our Calling, is cynical about the removal. His outreach operation is immediately adjacent to the Haskell encampment, where he says the city installed a portable toilet and a dumpster. He's seen the population ebb and flow over the years and watched the city's annual ritual of clearing away the tents and pushing away their occupants in advance of the State Fair of Texas.
The residents of the Haskell camp are already planning where they would go next. The homeless, Walker says, have proven time and again that they have more foresight than the Dallas officials tasked with dealing with them.