Mutual Aid Collectives Offer Lifeline for Dallas’s Unhoused Population During the Winter Storm
A week ago a Dallas The abandoned human camp called Camp Rhonda made headlines as city council officials tried to shut it down and relocate the dozen of people who lived there as Texas prepared for one of the most brutal winter storms in its history.
In response, a collective of local activists and organizers came into action to ensure Camp Rhonda residents stayed warm and had enough to eat when winter storm Uri sparked a bonafide humanitarian crisis for Dallas-Fort Worth.
When the metroplex experienced single-digit temperatures, howling winds, and snow that nearly brought the city to a standstill, these activists managed to help protect dozens of homeless motels and feed the hungry while raising hundreds of thousands of dollars to be distributed to families in need across North Texas.
For strangers, Camp Rhonda describes itself as an “autonomous protest camp” in which people without a place of residence can live without fear of being harassed by the police. “Camp Rhonda was founded out of necessity because agencies like the Office of Homeless Solutions and the Dallas Police Department criminalized and swept the homeless [away] their tents and personal belongings, ”said Ryan Ahmadian, organizer at Dallas Stops Evictions, a local nonprofit that led efforts in support of Camp Rhonda.
Before the storm, 16 members of the camp were moved by the Office of Homeless Solutions to a nearby hotel, but more than half of the camp was left on Wednesday, February 10. Temperatures are expected to drop below freezing for several days with Dallas stopping evictions and feeding the people Dallas has made efforts to support the remaining members. “We are essentially filling in where the city has failed most vulnerable of our neighbors,” says Ahmadian.
Camp Rhonda residents warm themselves around a community fire in Camp Rhonda [Courtesy photo]
That evening, just before the overnight freeze that resulted in a fatal pile of 133 cars on I-35W outside Fort Worth, a large truck delivered emergency supplies to the warehouse. Blankets, food and heating equipment were provided by a coalition of local grassroots groups including the American Black Cross, Commissary is Very Necessary and Not My Son. An emergency heating station was set up with an industrial heat blower.
But as temperatures continued to drop and all available accommodations in Dallas were full, organizers realized they had to do more to protect the lives of those still in the camp.
“We started seeing the snow and we kind of freaked out. So we asked for donations and started working with other organizations to share resources, ”said Vanessa Wilmore, founder and chief organizer of Feed the People Dallas. By Saturday February 13th, thousands of dollars in donations had been raised to move 23 members of the camp to hotels.
And then the organizers cooked. To provide people with the food they would need for the duration of their stay, the volunteers prepared hot soup and put together kits of non-perishable food for people to cook in their rooms. After Feed the People’s organizers discovered that some of the hotel rooms weren’t equipped with microwaves, they braved the icy streets and bought a dozen devices to make sure everyone had access to hot meals.
A lot of microwaves went to the displaced Camp Rhonda residents to feed the people [Official Photo]
“In addition to groups like Dallas Harm Reduction Aid and Say It With Your Chest, we have been able to provide adequate resources necessary to survive while also adjusting to an alternative system that is more beneficial to the working class,” says Ahmadian.
The collective’s fundraiser has been largely boosted on social media with thousands of retweets and even the attention of celebrities like Reese Witherspoon. At the time of this writing, Feed the People Dallas has raised and counted nearly $ 200,000 in donations. Some of these funds will be used to help the people of Camp Rhonda, from immediate needs like food and shelter to helping the people in the camp when the storm is over.
The remainder is used for direct aid, distribution to other mutual aid groups and expanding a program to provide free food to those in need.
“We are overwhelmed with all the support we have received. We plan to help with anything storm-related and have opened a form for direct assistance requests, ”says Wilmore.