A Place of Their Own

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"The goal would be over this 10-year period that we could add maybe 1,000 SROs, which would substantially reduce the number of the chronic homeless," Dunning says. "And if we have a low-demand shelter and a place where people can go to get job training, a place where the feeders can bring food, a place that they can feel safe to go whether they sleep outside [under a pavilion] or they sleep inside, that they'd at least have a place to go and that would get them into the counseling services. A place where people can go and see a doctor, can get counseling, can maybe see somebody from the Texas Employment Commission, a place where they can wash their clothes, take a shower, use restroom facilities."

It sounds expensive, and it will be. But the Miami model actually saves money in the long run, because the current rate to keep a homeless person on the street doesn't incorporate the expenses incurred by the city while the person is there. This includes lower property values in the southern half of downtown, where more of the homeless people are, but, as MDHA's Honey says, it's much larger than that.

"There is the cost to community hospitals, the cost of services to them," she says. "The cost in jails, the police officers, the ambulances. There is a lot of costs of city services that are going into providing services to somebody that, if they were in housing, they wouldn't have the problem to begin with. If they were in housing where they were safe, where they knew where they were going to sleep every night, they knew where their food was coming from, et cetera, and they were in the same place day after day so that they could keep their appointments with their doctors, keep on their medication--they're going to have a much more stable population."

And, the thinking goes, a much more stable downtown comes along with it. It's all part of the same quilt, as James says.

"[Councilwoman] Veletta Lill taught me something that I thought was really smart," he begins. "There again, most things that are smart are obvious. She said the difference between Dallas and New York is there's nobody on the streets in Dallas except the homeless. You know, in New York City, everybody's on the streets, so they blend. It's sort of a chicken-or-egg thing: 'When're you gonna get people back on the streets in Dallas? When're you gonna get rid of the homeless?' Well, maybe when you get the homeless off the sidewalks into living domiciles and help them to be more productive, quote-unquote 'normal' folk, and then you can bring in economic development at the upper end and the middle section and the lower end, then you begin to develop a community live on the streets." He stops and smiles.

"Of course, Dallas is so weird. I mean, we put our downtown underground. Go figure."

Hal Samples began taking photographs of homeless people almost two years ago. It started as a hobby, something to keep him occupied and sober, but it eventually became bigger than that, turning into the Hero to Zero project (see "What's Wrong With This Picture?," Dallas Observer, January 14, 2004), aimed at increasing awareness and funding for the homeless community. But taking photos wasn't enough for Samples. As he spent more time in the camps and alleyways where they stayed he knew he had to do more. He came up with ambitious plans and shoved them in front of every important set of eyes he could manage.

One of those plans is an SRO. As someone who's been on the streets himself, Samples knows what's needed to make one work. He has a vision. He just doesn't have any funding--not only for an SRO, but for himself. He's been on the verge of eviction from his South Side on Lamar loft for the better part of a year. Every photograph he sells funds the project, leaving him with nothing but a sick bulldog named Cash and a pile of bills.

Samples does, however, have a new workout plan, one that's trimmed more than 30 pounds off his frame.

"I have all these big developers come here and sit on that couch," he says, pointing with his cigarette. "They say they want to help, and after they're gone, I go, 'Yeeeeah!'" He shoots his arms out and clenches them back to his chest, squeezing every muscle in his upper body. "Then a few days later, they say they can't, and I go, 'Nooooooo!'" He repeats the move. When he pulls up his shirt, it's clear he's been doing this a lot lately.

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Zac Crain
Contact: Zac Crain

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