Plan to Close Tent City Gets Muddier

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The deadline, May 4, set by the city to clear the Dallas homeless encampment known as Tent City was not hard and fast. That much is clear after Wednesday's Dallas City Council meeting.

Adam Medrano desperately wants to get rid of Tent City. His district — which covers the Cedars as well as some of downtown, Deep Ellum and Oak Lawn, both contains and is most affected by the homeless camp. Paramedics are attacked when they visit, he said Wednesday, and police stay away. Visibly upset, Medrano worried that one of the concrete ideas presented by city staff to cut Tent City's population would only put further strain on his district.

The idea, as put forward by Dallas City Manager A.C. Gonzalez as well as representatives from The Bridge homeless center and the Dallas Metro Homeless Alliance, is to spend at least $1 million to increase available beds in the city of Dallas so Tent City residents can move elsewhere. At least half of that money would come from city funds, but The Bridge could raise as much as $500,000 to help out. The money would be spent on adding beds at existing shelters — 50 at the bridge, and as many as 190 at private shelters like the Austin Street Shelter. 

Red-clad downtown residents at the meeting opposed any plan that would cram more people into The Bridge — the crowded, city-owned shelter near the Farmers Market.

“We are a compassionate community, but, council, we’re already at capacity,” Michael Sitarzewski, president of the Cedars Neighborhood Association, said.

Council member Scott Griggs worried that any effort to disband Tent City without a clear plan would just lead to the campers moving elsewhere. A plan that only spends money on beds, he said, was not a plan at all.

“We do not have a plan in place," he said, telling Gonzalez that he wants a written plan for what the city will do with Tent City residents who refuse to leave the encampment before he votes to spend any money on additional beds at homeless shelters.

It was clear Wednesday that the council is nowhere near a consensus on what to do about the sprawling community under Interstate 45. Tent City is not going to come down in less than a month's time, and it was unclear whether it would even be possible to attain Gonzalez's restated goal of at least starting to move people in May. Regardless, Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings made clear, the council has to do something, other than discuss the problem to death.

“Are we going to spend this money and have beds for these people ready or not?” Rawlings said. "I don’t know where they go if they don’t go to The Bridge or Dallas Life. I guess they go back to White Rock Creek.”

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