Canceled plans in Louisiana, plus a Dallas resident reaching out to help my project, meant the second half of my week away was spent in this dazzling city.
Entering at night from Houston, the lit Dallas skyline was indeed dazzling. But my destinations within were quite the opposite. The next two days had me visit two shelters, photograph a newly-built community of former homeless, and interview several homeless residents and experts along the way.
Walking to a downtown homeless shelter my first morning here, I bump into a young man—who became my first interview.
“I go by Stix. I don’t actually tell people what my real name is,” he opened as we sat down in a nearby food court. “Cause when you’re on the streets 24/7, if you get into a beef with someone and they find out who you are, you’re, you know, endangering your family.”
Stix is his street name, he clarified. His stage name is Zdon the Rapper.
Zdon the Rapper performs at the local clubs and says he puts every dollar he earns back into his career. Why spend hundreds a month on rent when that’ll buy a lot of promotion?
“If I can save up $300 for a venue,” he explained. “I’ll already have the list of names to hit up.”
Given the trade-offs, Zdon the Rapper actually seemed pretty content with his lifestyle—if not downright mellow. But then he also shared his struggle with mental health, which put a wedge between him and his family and for which he lacks care today.
Zdon represents a growing number of youth homeless in the U.S.
“My name is Danny, and I’m homeless.”
Danny found out three weeks ago his mother was receiving hospice care. So, he—a small town deli worker—hitchhiked to Dallas.
“It took me three or four days, got like four rides,” he said.
He wanted to stay with his mother, but that wasn’t allowed. So, the facility paid for a cab to the homeless shelter outside which we are standing during this interview.
Then Danny planned to stay with a friend, but things fell through. He said he “had a little bit of money, but it didn’t go far.” He also said he knew he might end up without a place to stay, but added, “I had to see my mom.”
“I get out here and see her,” he said. “I think that’s what she was waiting for.”
Two or three days after seeing his mother—while in this shelter—Danny got the call. His mom had passed. Now Danny’s waiting for the ashes and looking for work here in Dallas.
“We came up here to Dallas to visit his brother, and we got stopped by the police and we didn’t have insurance on our car…”
Kelly and Herbert live under a highway bridge in Dallas. The have for the better part of a year. What was supposed to be a short visit turned into a 2018 on the streets. They say they never do drugs or even drink. Herbert is willing to work.
“Our car got towed. We didn’t have enough money [to get it back],” said Kelly.
Housing arrangements here with family fell through. So they had nowhere to go. Herbert got a job, but Kelly was attacked in her tent the first day he was away. So now he doesn’t want to leave her side. And here they are months later.
I asked about alternatives such as shelters or panhandling for bus fare to get back to their small Texas town. But shelters separate men and women. And their place back home is no longer available.
It’s easy for both cynics and sympathizers to react to Herbert and Kelly’s (and Danny’s) situation. There’s plenty to point out as to how they put themselves here and also how the streets have a gravity keeping good people down.
I think the deeper takeaway is that in decades past a simple visit to the city for Herbert and Kelly (and Danny) wouldn’t have been fraught with such risk. But today with legal fees, housing costs, and toxic street life, small mistakes like driving without insurance (or having an emergency like a dying mother) can eventually lead to months under a bridge.
Next, I sought out an expert to help make sense of this…
“And they felt, ‘If we do this housing, it’s gonna be in our neighborhoods.'”
This was the concern some members of a Dallas city committee expressed, Steve Davies said, when discussing building housing for the homeless.
Steve was one of the members on this committee addressing the homelessness crisis, and his time with me revealed a common issue: Many want to see the homeless housed, many also don’t want to see the homeless housed in their neighborhood.
So, where will they live?
Here is one solution…
They call them “The Cottages” here in Dallas, TX. Others may know them as “tiny homes,” a movement of minimalism that has been used to assist those without shelter. A community of about 50 cottages (housing older and vulnerable homeless folks) sits here just southeast of downtown.
Look for more about this method to address homelessness, as well as more from the experts and afflicted above, in my upcoming documentary series. Learn more and contribute to the project here, and follow updates at my social media (icons on at top right of this web page).
With all this content from Dallas, Houston, and the many stops in between, it’s now time I settle into a groove piecing all this content together.