Dallas begins relocation efforts for homeless residents of Camp Rhonda

After helping homeless people in South Dallas for four months, Ryan Ahmadian saw a lot.

One incident he vividly recalls is when his friend’s tent was thrown over a barbed wire fence and the rest of his belongings were thrown away by municipal cleaning teams.

“When you’re homeless, all you have is your personal effects,” said Ahmadian, who volunteers with Dallas Stops Evictions, an affordable housing advocacy group.

After his friend climbed the fence to find out what he could, Ahmadian helped him and several other homeless people pitch their tents on vacant lots south of Deep Ellum next to an Interstate 45 flyover.

What started from a three-tent camp soon grew to nearly 30. People familiar with the South Dallas community call it Camp Rhonda, named after Rhonda Fenwick, who lived there for a month before she died of organ failure.

Johnny Aguinaga, the owner of the property, said he knew nothing about the handful of people who moved there in October, but when he found out, he let them stay if they kept the area clean.

Aguinaga, who ran for the city council in District 4, received a code violation on Jan. 27 stating that the lot “could not be used for any purpose other than its intended use.” The notice stated that an inspector would return on Saturday to ensure the room was cleared. If there were tents left, the city could fine him up to $ 2,000 a day.

Since the announcement, city officials have “made every effort to strategically and compassionately manage the camp’s residents … while educating the owner to bring the land into compliance with applicable zoning requirements,” according to an email from one city “Speaker.

By Wednesday, the Office of Homeless Solutions had met with 23 residents of the camp to discuss placement needs, and 16 agreed to move to the Miramar Hotel in Oak Cliff. Relocation efforts for these people began on Friday, and city officials are offering COVID-19 tests before they are taken to the hotel.

Homeless Solutions staff assign case managers to each guest. Your goal is to get everyone in stable apartments within three weeks.

Despite efforts to house Camp Rhonda residents in brick and mortar buildings, proponents of homelessness have criticized the city’s actions.

Those who do not end up at the Hotel Miramar lose the stability of the camp where volunteers have provided the residents with essentials that they might not otherwise receive.

Dallas Stops Evictions and Diaspora United, an anti-imperialism organization, regularly supplied the warehouse with hygiene products. Dallas Street Medics provided basic first aid, and Feed the People Dallas Mutual Aid organized grocery and laundry services every two weeks.

“What are you going to do after that, if you’ve already kicked you out of Camp Rhonda?” said Vanessa Wilmore, lead organizer at Feed the People Dallas Mutual Aid.

“Of course the city has protocols and things to do, but when you strip all of that off and really just think about people, you can think about actual solutions.”

Homeless shelters provide temporary outside relief but are more difficult to access during the pandemic due to space restrictions and health regulations. Most animal shelters require COVID-19 negative tests to enter.

Doctors look at a lung CT image at a hospital in Xiaogan, China.

“If you leave for the night, you’ll have to go through the process again,” said Elisabeth Jordan, founder of The Human Impact, a nonprofit that cares for the homeless.

“So we saw that during this time, more people chose to be unprotected than normal.”

It’s also harder to keep families together. Men and women are usually separated and many shelters are not pet friendly. Almost all shelters have a set time when people have to be for the night.

“There have to be rules,” said Ahmadian. “But they also do it to the point where it is impractical for the people who live there and puts a strain on their lifestyle.”

Angel Sharpe poses with her dog Bella at Camp Rhonda, a homeless camp off I-45 in South Dallas on Friday, February 5, 2021.  Sharpe had been living at Camp Rhonda for a week.  Last week city officials sent a notice to the property owner, Johnny Aguinaga, stating that the property must be empty by February 6.  (Juan Figueroa / The Dallas Morning News)Angel Sharpe poses with her dog Bella at Camp Rhonda, a homeless camp off I-45 in South Dallas on Friday, February 5, 2021. Sharpe had been living at Camp Rhonda for a week. Last week city officials sent a notice to the property owner, Johnny Aguinaga, stating that the property must be empty by February 6. (Juan Figueroa / The Dallas Morning News)(Juan Figueroa / employee photographer)

Ahmadian and other proponents have stressed that the bigger problem is a lack of affordable housing and the systemic problems that lead to homelessness.

“Getting off the streets is much harder during this pandemic,” Jordan said.

Jordan and staff from The Human Impact have brought laptops and hotspots to Camp Rhonda and other communities to help the homeless get IDs or other services they may need. However, systems and offices are slower than normal.

Last year the Office of Homeless Solutions received about $ 500,000 and the Water Department received $ 250,000 for cleaning camps. Proponents have said that money should be used for long-term solutions rather than sweeps.

“They don’t offer any serious solutions or alternatives to them,” Ahmadian said. “When you think [homelessness is] a problem, then fix the problem. “

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