With Streets Frozen and Shelters Full, the Red Cross Makes Room for Dallas's Homeless

With five blankets and a parka separating her from the toughest cold Dallas has seen in years, May Davis figured she'd spend last night like all the others she's spent on the street in South Dallas. Around 9 p.m., though, as the temperature sunk into the mid-20s, a city of Dallas Crisis Intervention team helped change her mind.

They offered Davis a ride to the temporary Red Cross shelter in East Dallas, inside the Samuell Grand Recreation Center, where a few minutes later she was getting checked in, headed for a shower a night on a cot in a heated room. "I figured, it wasn't gonna get better, and it's gonna be even worse tomorrow," Davis told Unfair Park.

The shelter has room for up to 250 people, and shelter manager Jan Mayhall said the Red Cross is ready to open as many as four more in the next few days. Sitting by the rec center's front door last night, with a pile of pink bracelets and a binder of carbon-copy registration forms in front of her on a card table, Mayhall checked in newcomers, taking down names and explaining the rules, among them: "lights out at 11," "no drugs or alcohol" and "no fornicating."

Dallas police, Crisis Intervention and a handful of other organizations have been out this week in a large city effort to coax homeless people in from the cold -- one that, as the city's homeless czar Mike Rawlings said yesterday, has been pretty effective so far. With The Bridge at overflow capacity -- its managing director Jay Dunn told us they put up 90 people in their lobby Wednesday night -- the Red Cross shelter is taking in people who'd be out of luck finding shelter beds elsewhere, and folks who, under less extreme circumstances, would find a nook under a highway overpass before they'd take a cot in a shelter.

In the gym set aside for the men's sleeping quarters, two guys picked through a massive pile of donated clothes from the Salvation Army. In the middle of the gym, about 15 men were stretched out asleep on cots.

At the far wall, Terry Hinkle was wide awake, with an AC/DC song playing quietly on a radio at his feet. He doesn't like going to The Bridge or other shelters, he said, and had been planning to stay outside all week. "I was gonna tough it out, till it started raining," Hinkle said. Homeless on and off since he was a teenager, Hinkle said he'a a loner, but he's glad he accepted a ride to the Red Cross shelter from the cops who found him along St. Augustine Road. "They've been good to us, man. We can leave any time we want, they're not institutionalizing us," he said.

The guy on the cot next to him, who goes by the name Freebird, said he'd heard about plans to open a Red Cross shelter since last week, but had trouble learning any details about where it would be. Finally, he found a Twitter update from Red Cross Dallas, and hiked to Samuell Grand Thursday afternoon. He says he might have tried staying at the Salvation Army shelter, but it's better knowing he's found somewhere to hunker down for the duration of the cold spell. "It's madness going in and out of different shelters," he said. "The overcrowding, the fighting and cabin fever."

The Red Cross shelter opened Wednesday, with 12 staying for the night, Mayhall said. She noticed people were getting bored in the middle of the night, so she ran out to buy dominoes and began a late-night tournament. Thursday night, people crowded around a TV in the snack room to watch the Rose Bowl game.

Unlike others around Dallas, Mayhall said the Red Cross shelter won't close or make people leave during the day -- it will be open straight through Saturday or Sunday, depending on when the weather warms up.

Mayhall told Unfair Park that 30 people had come in for dinner (the Salvation Army is providing hot breakfasts and dinners) and by 10 p.m., nearly 50 people had come in for the night. She expected more to trickle in all night long, especially folks who might have turned down offers earlier. "As it gets colder, they're deciding to come in," she said.