Dallas Residents Defy Winter Storm to Help Neighbors in Need

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When the residents of Dallas struggled with the cold, they gave their neighbors a helping hand. Local attorney Mark Melton received a call from Paula Blackmon, member of the city council, and Carrie Prysock, director of the mayor and city council, saying they needed help sourcing bottled water and groceries for the Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center.

On Friday, the city worked with the local nonprofit Ministry, OurCalling, to prepare the convention center to accommodate the city’s homeless in inclement weather. On Monday it was also opened to the general public as a thermal center.

Melton stopped by the convention center Tuesday “just because I wanted to see what it looked like before we happened to send people there,” he said.

When he went to the heat center on Tuesday, there were tables and chairs, water and light snacks, but no cots like those for the homeless. This didn’t seem very pleasant or inviting, especially for families. So he arranged cots for the heat center on Tuesday evening.

Melton has gotten pretty good at pooling resources. Since the pandemic, he’s been organizing lawyers to help people fight their evictions. What are usually fairly simple tasks has been made extremely difficult by the weather and power outages. In one case, he spent three hours tracking down a pallet of water bottles.

Part of the problem is that many people, including city staff, are snowed in so everyone is understaffed. So city officials asked Melton to help collect volunteers. He posted on social media and received an overwhelming response from the community who offered help.

He coordinated with the city to best organize this help. Part of that is driving people to the convention center.

In different circumstances, Melton met an old man who refused to leave his house even though his electricity was off. The man was crying and shivering from the cold. Melton found someone to bring the man heaters and other supplies.

“A lot of these people don’t want to leave their homes because they are afraid of what will be in the shelters, they are afraid of what will happen to their house if they leave,” Melton said. “Some of them have pets and there was no pet shelter.”

He said he was just trying to deliver food and blankets and anything to give people some warmth in the cold.

The congress center should only be set up as a heating station by Wednesday noon. But shortly after 11 a.m., when Melton was still organizing trips to the heating station, he doubted that it would be closed.

“Obviously there is still a great need, especially during power outages. We need to have places these people can go, ”Melton said. “The convention center is an absolute necessity. We have to keep that open for now. “

On Wednesday afternoon, the city announced that the heating station would remain open until further notice.

Additional heating stations were set up in Dallas and North Texas. Users distributed lists of them on social media. Melton drove to all of the alleged shelters and warming stations but said some of them were not open. He said part of this was due to staff being unable to make it or power outages disrupting the heating station.

“We have a lot of people without transportation and they are sitting in their homes and are literally freezing to death,” Melton said.

He said the city needs more communal heating stations so that the route to them can be shorter and safer.

This is a list of the Dallas Police Department's local heat stations.

This is a list of the Dallas Police Department’s local heat stations.

Dallas Police Department

Up to a thousand people are in distress at the convention center at any one time, he said, and there are still debates going on in town hall and at the county level about how many people can be accommodated in nearby emergency shelters during a pandemic. They balance their worries about the virus and their worries about people in need. It is easy for Melton to decide what is more important.

“If you have the option, ‘Someone can almost certainly stay under a bridge and freeze to death, or you have some risk of transmitting a virus,’ immediate freezing should be a priority and we just have to deal with those risks as best we can Melton said. “We can’t just sit here and let these people die in their homes because we are afraid to bring them, because we could risk transmission. We only have bad options, so we have to choose the least bad option. “

Since the convention center opened last Friday, Raha Assadi has been driving through Dallas’ District 2, where she is running for city council looking for people affected by homelessness.

She said the convention center needs a lot of help distributing food during breakfast, lunch and dinner, so help out if she can.

Several apartment complexes in the Cedars were without power all week, Assadi said. Your campaign is collecting supplies to distribute to the people there. On Wednesday and Thursday, Assadi was collecting items outside of Total Wine at 3810 Congress Ave. in Oak Lawn to be later distributed to the people who had settled in powerless apartment complexes.

“This is an unprecedented time. We have never seen weather like this in Texas, ”said Assadi. “If now is not the best time to help people, when is it?”

She encourages people to reach out to their neighbors and make sure they are safe, especially those who live alone.

“Suppose everyone is COVID negative and you have no symptoms. Ask them to come over because being alone in the dark will have long-term effects on your mind and mental health.”

Michelle Espinal-Embler, a Dallas resident, made it to a hotel after her townhouse complex lost power. Not all of her neighbors were so lucky. When she came over to check on them, she said they were still without power. Assuming it hadn’t arrived while she was gone, she suspected that her power had been out for more than 50 hours.

Her crew, consisting of her husband, 9-year-old daughter and two babies in need of diapers, ran a supply run in a nearby Walgreens that was still open.

While they were being restocked at a nearby pharmacy, Michelle Espinal-Embler's family decided to make these care packages for their neighbors without power.

While they were being restocked at a nearby pharmacy, Michelle Espinal-Embler’s family decided to make these care packages for their neighbors without power.

Michelle Espinal-Embler

There they decided to put the supplies together in a few care packages for the neighbors. The packages came complete with a pair of fuzzy socks, two bottles of water, two disposable heating pads, two protein drinks, and a handful of meal replacement bars.

They went door to door in their neighborhood and distributed them. She said a lot of people were apparently fine and bundled up under blankets. Others, about 13 people she met, were stationed in their cars, which were warmer than their homes.

It is still uncertain when things will return to normal. Warmer weather is set to help in the days ahead, but Melton believes there is still much to be done.

“Just because the snow stops doesn’t mean the temperature rises or the power comes back,” Melton said. “So we still have the same problem unless it suddenly warms up. We can’t just pretend the problem is going to go away because the sky is clear. “

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