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For Dallas' Homeless, Getting a Stimulus Check Is No Easy Task

Volunteers at the embattled Camp Rhonda encampment help homeless residents navigate the bureaucracy of securing their stimulus checks
Volunteers at the embattled Camp Rhonda encampment help homeless residents navigate the bureaucracy of securing their stimulus checks
Steven Monacelli
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For Americans with a fixed address or a bank account, the third stimulus payment has arrived without them needing to lift a finger. It simply showed up in their checking account or mailbox.

But not for Dallas’ unsheltered homeless population, who lack fixed addresses and often don’t have a bank account. Some even lack basic identification. As much as they could use the money, many unsheltered people in Dallas simply fall through the bureaucratic cracks.

This is certainly the case for more than half a dozen residents of Camp Rhonda, the embattled homeless encampment in southern Dallas.

The city of Dallas has forced or pressured the camp to move twice: first in February after the city issued a code violation to the property owner where the camp originally was formed, and again in early March when dozens of cops pushed the camp out of Pioneer Park near City Hall.

The camp has since relocated to a vacant lot by the southern half of the Malcolm X Boulevard bridge, where activists with the Dallas Houseless Committee (DHC) continue to support the residents.

On April 3, members of the DHC held an event aimed to help the residents of Camp Rhonda clear hurdles that had previously prevented them from receiving a stimulus check. They were joined by members of the Dallas Street Medics, who provided basic health checks to the residents.

“There were a lot of viral posts on the internet about different ways that homeless people could get their stimulus checks. … That inspired us, so we organized a day to help,” says Ryan Ahmadian, an organizer with the Dallas Houseless Committee.

With volunteer support, residents were able to sign up for the latest round of stimulus payments, which may also include “plus-up” payments for those who qualify for more than they have actually received. Some volunteers even offered their addresses so the payments could be sent out.

Rachel Calzada is among the residents of the camp who was able to successfully sign up for her stimulus. Now 62 years old, she says she has been working since she was 17.

Last year, Calzada and her husband became homeless after she was diagnosed with diabetes and her plummeting health forced her to leave her job. Eventually, her health stabilized, but she was unable to find a job as the COVID-19 pandemic rocked the economy.

“When I was healthy enough to get back to work, they wouldn’t take me back,” Calzada says. They eventually found Camp Rhonda, where they've now been for a month.

Now, Calzada is looking forward to being able to afford much-needed medical supplies. “I need to buy some supplies for my diabetes. ...I lost my parents and two brothers to diabetes,” she explains.

Calzada and her husband aren't used to sleeping rough, and some of her relatives don’t even know she lives on the street. For Calzada, Camp Rhonda provided a stable place to live where she can get occasional basic medical checks, but she hopes to get off the street as soon as she can.

Patricia Nolan, another resident of Camp Rhonda, says the volunteers successfully helped her sign up for her stimulus checks. Asked whether anyone from the city had tried to help with this process, she says, “The city doesn't help us do anything except throw our stuff away.”

Several Camp Rhonda members echoed Nolan's sentiments. They've all lost belongings as the city carried out sweeps. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has issued guidance against sweeps, and the city released a memo in December announcing a moratorium, but at least four encampments have recently been swept or forced to move.

Ahmadian says Dallas Houseless Committee had contacted the Office of Homeless Solutions to see if they had any plans to help the homeless navigate the stimulus payment process with the interest of collaborating, and he was told there were no plans. “I don’t know of any organizations that are trying to go through this process,” Ahmadian said.

Contacted by the Observer, the city of Dallas acknowledged they have not directly addressed the issue of helping the homeless get their stimulus payments until this month.

Starting on April 6, Dallas public library staff will be working with The Stewpot — a nonprofit managed by the First Presbyterian Church of Dallas that partners with the Office of Homeless Solutions — to help homeless individuals process the paperwork for their stimulus payments.

“It’ll be from 10 to 12 [on Tuesdays], and then we are going to determine if we need to add more staff or more days or for a longer period of time,” says Brenda Snitzer, The Stewpot's executive director.

Snitzer and others have been spreading the word about the program through various channels, including through the Office of Homeless Solutions. Unsheltered individuals who receive assistance will be able to use The Stewpot’s address to receive their payment.

“Everyone should have access to the stimulus check,” Ahmadian says.

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