Dallas Threatens to Shut Down Homeless Encampment
Keep the Dallas Observer Free
Support the independent voice of Dallas and help keep the future of Dallas Observer clear.
The city threatens to raid a property where more than 30 people are living in tents until they can find permanent shelter. Dallas Code Compliance officials have warned Johnny Aguinaga, the owner of the property, that he is illegally using his land by allowing the homeless to camp on it.
Aguinaga, a homeless activist running for District 4 of the city council, said he should remove all tents from his property by February 6.
Prior to the pandemic, Aguinaga said the city ran a search of his property when it saw tents being set up and gave campers 72 hours notice to evacuate. After three days, a small army of people arrived and were hired by the city to get rid of any people or items left behind.
Following directions from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Dallas made these people a little more relaxed.
As per CDC guidelines, the Dallas Police Department, Office of Homeless Solutions, and city-hired vendors have temporarily suspended their anti-warehouse efforts to ensure these homeless populations do not get COVID-19.
There is usually a sign reading “Camp Rhonda” on the gates around Aguinaga’s property. Now another sign is in its place. “Stop the sweeps,” they say.
Aguinaga said downtown sweeps and Deep Ellum brought the homeless closer to what is now Camp Rhonda, near Interstate 45 and Ferris Street.
The camp started with three tents. The number quickly rose to over 20. “I can’t kick her out,” he said. “My heart can’t.”
The camp is named after one of its first residents. According to Aguinaga, Rhonda was the glue that held the camp community together. She died earlier this year. He owns another piece of land that he calls Camp Joy, where eight people live.
Kevin Stuart, a veteran who has been at Camp Rhonda for a few months, said if the camp closes and the town doesn’t offer help, he’ll just have to move on to the nearest camp.
The people at Camp Rhonda said they had nowhere else to go.
Kevin Stuart, a veteran who has been at Camp Rhonda for a few months, said someone with the town stopped on Monday and told him the site would close at some point. He said he was told that its residents can get to city-arranged hotels where they may find permanent accommodation.
Stuart said he has been homeless since 2015. For several years he was complacent in his homelessness and succumbed to methamphetamine addiction. He has been trying to get back on his feet since 2019.
Stuart was optimistic about what people with the city told him on Monday, but if the camp closes and the city doesn’t offer any help, he just has to move on to the nearest camp. He doesn’t want that.
“This was a place of fellowship,” he said. Stuart said life at Camp Rhonda is safer, where services are provided and he doesn’t have to worry about being robbed. Whatever happens, he said, he knows everything will be fine. “If you don’t have faith, you can’t even get God’s ear,” said Stuart. “He doesn’t answer my tears or my need. He only answers the call of faith.”
As chair of the Human and Social Needs Committee, City Councilor Casey Thomas leads the Office for Solutions for the Homeless. Thomas said he was unaware of what was going on at Camp Rhonda and referred questions to Councilor Adam Bazaldua. The camp is located in Bazalduas District 7, but he didn’t respond to any comment or to Kevin Oden, the interim director of the Office of Homeless Solutions.
Aguinaga said the people at Camp Rhonda had everything they needed there. Organizations such as Say It With Your Chest and Feed the People Dallas Mutual Aid are providing the city with free food, hygiene products, and other resources.
The latest annual homeless number in Dallas found that after years of growth, fewer people were left homeless in the city. It also found that the city’s efforts to get these people from one place to another but not to get them off the streets and into apartments were successful.
Keep the Dallas Observer Free … Ever since we started the Dallas Observer, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Dallas, and we want it to stay that way. We offer our readers free access to concise coverage of local news, food and culture. Produce stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands with bold coverage, stylish writing, and staff, everything from the Society of Professional Journalists’ Sigma Delta Chi Feature Writing Award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism have won. With the existence of local journalism under siege and setbacks having a greater impact on advertising revenue, it is more important than ever for us to raise support for funding our local journalism. You can help by joining our “I Support” membership program which allows us to continue to cover Dallas without paywalls.