Someplace Like Home

Page 3 of 8

The children, however, aren't put off by the towering Brown. "Mister Brown!" exclaims a little girl, whose hair is wrapped meticulously in plastic beads. She races up to Brown and embraces his leg. Her little brother follows behind her, holds up his palm and says, "I'm 4."

When he got here, Brown figured the idea of housing homeless men--many of whom are hard-core addicts with criminal backgrounds--in an open setting with women and children was a front-page headline waiting to happen. But the HAC's clients have proven more willing to go along with the program than he'd guessed.

"I thought there would be drugs. I thought there would be cuttings. I expected the worst. We've never had to call 911 as a result of a weapon being used inside this facility," Brown says. "Now, there is a pecking order here. If somebody lights up a cigarette, we'll know it before the match goes out."

Unlike traditional homeless shelters, the HAC isn't a soup kitchen, and the only people who get fed here are residents. The policy was adopted specifically to prevent the HAC from attracting homeless people it can't house into the neighborhood.

For the same reason, the HAC isn't a "walk-in" facility. All of its clients must be referred here by the outreach office, which dispatches two-man teams of formerly homeless people to patrol the city's known haunts in search of potential clients. The outreach office also answers a 1-800 number people can call if they are homeless or about to become homeless.

Once they get here, the clients' names and identifying information are logged into a database. The computer tells employees if the client has checked in before and, if so, why he left. From there, they are sent to the HAC's on-site clinic, where they are screened for communicable diseases, particularly tuberculosis. If a client doesn't need emergency medical attention, he's assigned a bed.

Before they are admitted, the clients must sign a "resident agreement" form. In exchange for a bed, three meals a day and a new set of clothes, the clients must adhere to an array of rules. Chief among them is that they accept case management. The residents aren't drug-tested and are free to leave the campus during the day, but they are expected to be sober and back inside by the 7 p.m. curfew.

"This is not a penal system, but we have to have some rules in place," Brown says, adding that clients are also assigned various chores. "We want people to get into the ritual of, this is your house, let's keep it clean."

The niggling rules, particularly the curfew, have proven difficult for many homeless people to swallow. The failure to meet curfew--an activity typically associated with falling off the wagon--is the most common reason why some 44 percent of the HAC's clients wind up back on the streets.

A lot of them show up at the Camillus House shelter, the lone eyesore in Hilda Fernandez's aerial vista. That much was clear as a couple of dozen ragged men gathered outside the building's sidewalk on a recent Monday, waiting for the afternoon feeding.

This place resembles sections of downtown Dallas, particularly the blocks surrounding the public library. Across the street from Camillus House, at the now-defunct Sloppy Joe's hotel and restaurant, homeless people are curled up beneath blankets along the sidewalk, their bodies barely distinguishable from the heaps of trash lying about.

"The HAC's a joke. All they want is your name and Social Security number, and they'll throw you out within two days," says Ernest Adams, who has been "steadily" homeless for about a year and panhandles on occasion. "If you're out here on the street, you'll get more people who will bring you food and clothes."

"Ridicule," Wayne Williams adds. "That's all you'll get at the HAC."

While the men complain, another guy starts peeing in the street. Then a wild-looking woman crashes out of the shelter's front door and screams, to no one in particular, "You need to go! I don't want to see you today."

The two men gawk at the woman.

"She needs help," Adams says.

Dressed in neat slacks, a T-shirt and a pair of wing tips, Adams says he just returned to Miami from a job interview in Fort Lauderdale. What he needs, he says, is a job--not case managers and lectures. The same goes for Williams, who is conspicuously dressed in a fresh pair of jeans, collared shirt and new sneakers--the same type of outfit worn by men at the HAC.

KEEP THE DALLAS OBSERVER FREE... Since we started the Dallas Observer, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Dallas, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Rose Farley
Contact: Rose Farley

Latest Stories