Dallas plans to sweep Camp Rhonda, a symbol of houseless organizing – Liberation News
The city of Dallas threatened a local abandoned camp with eviction and destruction of personal property on Wednesday, January 27. This camp near the Austin Street Shelter is named Camp Rhonda after a loved one who tragically passed away.
The camp has grown due to the involvement and leadership of several homeless people, including Rhonda, in coordination with groups such as Diaspora United, Dallas Stops Evictions, and several other organizations. This development began in the summer of 2020 with uprisings against racism, when the participants in the struggle recognized the need for sustainable organization.
In the past few months, Camp Rhonda has become a major distribution point for resources and donations to dozens of people in urgent need of assistance. The destruction of the camp would mean the loss of a much-needed central location where food, clothing, linen and medical checkups are available. As with any visit to the camp, if they forcibly lost their homes, many would lose their tents, papers, and even medicines.
Mobilize organizations and individuals across the Dallas / Fort Worth area to stop the sweep.
Put down roots
Camp Rhonda has its roots in the fight against racism and police terror last summer. Diaspora United, including its leading member Ryan Ahmadian, was active and inspired in the summer riots. However, they did not want to stop simply mobilizing.
“We didn’t want to stop just bringing people onto the streets. We also wanted to organize in the long term. ”
Ahmadian and Diaspora United developed close relationships with the community that lived near the Austin Street Shelter. While the shelter offers life-saving housing, it is known among the unhoused communities and activists for turning away the homeless and de-registering camps. Some homeless people go so far as to call the strict rules and regulations in the shelter nothing more than a prison or prison.
The idea of using a nearby vacant property as a warehouse arose from discussions with homeless people in the community. Camp Rhonda was born.
Development of the camp
Diaspora United began delivering food, clothing, hygiene kits (tampons, soap, disinfectant, masks) and literature from the Austin Street Shelter to the street this summer. Groups such as the Party for Socialism and Liberation and the Democratic Socialists of America joined this bi-weekly effort, known as resource replenishment, and volunteered their time, literature, and resources. These events became key organizing venues where parishioners discussed the need for a homeless union while reading and studying the struggle for justice in the streets. Discussions would go from Elijah McClain to Atatiana Jefferson, Botham Jean and Breonna Taylor on the police searches of camps and the need for union formation. Solidarity and community spirit increased over the next few months as these events continued.
Dallas Stops Evictions formed around the same time. DSE is a coalition of socialist organizations including PSL, DSA North Texas, Socialist Alternative, Communist Party USA and Diaspora United. The link between the tenants’ organizational efforts and that of the homeless was a natural link that brought the two organizations together.
Diaspora United brought the idea of a warehouse to DSE. The homeless community had recognized the need for a warehouse large enough to protect itself with connections to other organizers and organizations. Before Camp Rhonda, people in the area slept in tents off the street and on sidewalks. They were regularly swept and lost their tents and other vital resources such as medicines and documentation.
With the necessity, the coalition began a tent ride requesting tents, sleeping bags, pillows, and more. From there, a nearby plot of land was cleaned up, mowed and prepared by the coalition so that parishioners could pitch their tents.
Camp Rhonda started with only three members and grew to thirty over the next few months. The camp was maintained by a few organizations for the first few months and eventually attracted the attention of other local organizations. Groups like Say it With Your Chest, Feed the People, Dallas Harm Reduction, and Street Medics Dallas joined the effort, providing more food and clothing, checkups, laundry, substance use education, and more.
Of course, the services that the volunteers of the various organizations provide are services that the government should provide. Instead, it has fallen into human hands.
The city of Dallas takes action against the weakest
The City of Dallas Homeless Solutions Bureau (OHS) informed Camp Rhonda members on Saturday, Jan. 30 that all tents and debris must be removed within ten days or they would be subject to a sweep. This is despite continued CDC guidelines against sweeps throughout the coronavirus pandemic.
Sweeps are not only an inconvenience but also a cause of death. Individuals lose their protection, their belongings including documentation and life-saving medicines, their social networks and contacts in their camp – and perhaps most importantly, their hope.
COVID-19 has increased the lethality of sweeps. Unhodged people have higher rates of infectious diseases such as tuberculosis and hepatitis A and less access to medical care and regular sanitation in non-pandemic conditions. These “pre-existing conditions” may enable some to get early access to COVID vaccination, but the CDC has not published clear guidelines on early vaccination of homeless people that will allow states to avoid this issue. Often times, camps form due to their proximity to key services such as healthcare and food. Because of this, these services are becoming increasingly difficult to achieve due to sweeps. Outside of a pandemic, sweeps are cruel and can be deadly. Increasingly, sweeps mean a death sentence during COVID.
It is a full charge against this system that there are unhodged people while there is a surplus of housing in the US – nearly six vacant houses for every homeless person. Clearly, it’s not surprising that deadly events continue during a pandemic.
People must show their strongest solidarity with the residents of Camp Rhonda as a symbol of what is possible for the people, the homeless, when we come together to stand up for our human rights.
The members of Camp Rhonda, DSE and all organizations involved call for solidarity with our homeless neighbors in their fight against the deadly consequences. A list of claims was sent to Kevin Oden with the Dallas Emergency Management Bureau, Councilor Adam Bazaldua (representative of the district where Camp Rhonda is located), OHS, and Dallas Code Compliance.
Read the list of claims and find out how you can help in the fight here.