The weather was temperate on Saturday as I drove through the area where I-75 intersected with I-30. My medic partner and friend, Fox, sat in the passenger seat, head on a swivel looking for our destination. GPS can only get you so far when searching for an encampment such as this, a place where many people live, yet the city has not deigned to give an address. Good luck finding a job, getting a library card, receiving any mail at all when you’re denied an address. But as the City of Dallas has frequently proven, taking care of vulnerable populations is very close to the bottom of their priority list, right along with “Fix broken infrastructure” and “create a public transportation system that makes sense.”
We found our target location, sprawling for nearly a mile, following the shadow cast by the I-30 overpass. Tents and bedrolls lined the sidewalks, and people sat, chatting. As our small group arrived, they were receptive to what we offered – blood pressure checks, glucose checks, advice, company, water, and electrolyte solutions. They had been through a lot – things that I had never been through, and I hope I never will. But there’s something to be said for the indomitable human spirit. Despite cities like Dallas all but declaring their existence to be illegal (I spotted two police cars rolling slowly by, as if to say “Give me a reason to stop”), they smiled, laughed, and welcomed us. They talked about their lives, the weather, their health with a warmness one might not expect from those who have been denied even the bottom rung on Maslow’s pyramid.
We gave away a tent to a person in need, and there’s something to be said for knowing they’ll be at least somewhat protected from storms now. We sent one person to Parkland, fearing for their life. We gave away water, Gatorade, Pedialyte, condoms, and bandages. As the hours wore on, and our team regrouped, the temperature was up by a noticeable amount, and we’d done as much as we could. None of us felt like we’d done enough, but the residents of Camp Chestnut as we’d come to call it never betrayed feeling such a sentiment. We told them we’d be back. They said they’d look forward to our return.
We still try to affect change on a larger level. Sure, we’re on the ground many weeks, but not everyone can do that. But we encourage people to vote. Look hard at the candidates, ask the tough questions. We’ve watched encampments be swept away from private property where they’d been invited to be on the basis of obscure zoning codes designed to make homelessness illegal. Unpleasant Design, the practice of making benches or sidewalks impossible to sleep on, is rampant in many cities. If you fall into a bad position in life, cities like Dallas won’t help you. They’ll do everything they can to make sure no one knows you exist, and they’ll make your very existence a violation of a number of municipal codes they otherwise don’t care about. Voting is important. Any politician who believes it should be illegal to exist as a homeless person has no business in a position of power. Exercise your power to vote them out.
There are links on our site to donate or to volunteer. If you can, please do so. Because we can only do so much, and we need people and resources. I wish I could end this blog post with some kind of super happy ending, or at least an inspirational quote. All I have is that whether its Chestnut or Rhonda, we will return. And we intend to keep coming back until we’re no longer needed.