City Hall

Real Problem The City Has With Homeless Is That They Just Won't Die

Only two months after a recent mass eviction of homeless people from a downtown encampment, Dallas officials already are preparing for a second mass evacuation of the new camp that the homeless people moved to when they got kicked out of the first one.

This confirms a prediction I made the first time. I predicted that these people would refuse to die. I hate being the bearer of bad news, but I have seen this same thing happen time and time again with the homeless.

Years ago, after the city first made begging illegal, the homeless people persisted in living anyway, making it necessary for the city to come up with an even stronger hint. The city hit on the idea of making it illegal for the homeless to push their belongings in shopping carts.

It seemed like a brilliant idea at the time, because they all had shopping carts. But even after the shopping carts had been banished, the homeless people went right on living.

With these frustrations in mind, city officials escalated their efforts last April and decided it was time to go after the tents. No one had wanted to see that moment arrive, but, after the begging and shopping cart bans had failed to get the message across, the persistent living of the homeless people had put the city in a tight corner.

All of the homeless people in question were living in tents, presumably because they did not have homes. The association of tents with homeless people was very clear.

Somewhat reluctantly and only because they could think of no alternative, city officials moved in last spring and forced the homeless people to take down their tents. The city put up wire fences so the homeless would not be able to put their tents back up again.

Of course now, sadly, we see how the homeless people reacted. Instead of dying, they put their tents up in another place. Then they carried on with the staying alive. It's the one thing they won't stop doing.

The city now must seize on the only plan it considers logical. It intends to make the homeless people take their tents down again and leave. Then presumably the city will fence them out again. Lord only knows what the homeless people's next gambit will be.
I have searched my own personal and professional experience for a parallel, for anything equivalent to the city of Dallas' dilemma in dealing with the homeless. The closest I have found comes from my experience as a fisherman. It’s the wildlife management policy commonly called “catch and release.”

In catch and release fishing, the government requires anglers to release fish alive after catching them in order to sustain the fish population and provide multiple fishermen with the satisfaction of catching the same fish. In the city’s approach to the homeless problem, the city catches them in order to show that it can catch them, but then it releases them alive because of other government regulations. The difference is that the government likes fish.

The homeless people, meanwhile, just keep on living and living and living. In fact, I am going to make another bold prediction here, which I believe will be borne out by time. After the homeless have been evicted from the second homeless encampment, I predict that they will take their tents and set up a third homeless encampment. You read it here first.

I have wracked my brain for a possible solution. I am developing an idea, which is not yet fully developed and I am not quite ready to share. But I can give you a hint. Have you noticed that they all seem to have shoes?
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Jim Schutze has been the city columnist for the Dallas Observer since 1998. He has been a recipient of the Association of Alternative Newsweeklies’ national award for best commentary and Lincoln University’s national Unity Award for writing on civil rights and racial issues. In 2011 he was admitted to the Texas Institute of Letters.
Contact: Jim Schutze