Saturday, July 19, 2008

When charity begets problems

I've been watching developments at The Bridge, Dallas' new center for the homeless, with keen interest.

When the center was proposed, it attracted much opposition. The plans were eventually steamrollered through despite objections, and the center opened in May. However, it's been beset with problems.

Despite overwhelming crowds, the operator of The Bridge stands by his philosophy of not turning away anyone in need. Dallas' new homeless shelter continues to serve twice as many people as the center was built to accommodate.

But its open-door approach has led to problems: drug-dealing, fights, thefts and lax security. People who weren't homeless were preying on guests with mental illnesses, disabilities and addictions.

Several staff members were assaulted by guests at The Bridge, according to Joel John Roberts, chief executive of PATH Partners of Los Angeles, which formerly provided social workers for the facility. And security guards were "accepting pizza and soft drinks from known drug dealers," he said.

"There appears to be no coordinated and proactive system to appropriately identify who is on the campus," Mr. Roberts said in a June 18 letter to Mike Faenza, president and chief executive of the Metro Dallas Homeless Alliance.

The homeless alliance, which runs The Bridge for the city, has since terminated its contract with PATH Partners. A PATH Partners spokeswoman said Thursday that the agency had no comment about the letter.

Mr. Faenza said the problems outlined in the letter have been resolved.

The shelter now has a curfew so people cannot enter after 10 p.m. without approval, he said. The Bridge also has increased the number of security officers and kicked out drug dealers, he said. He said he had no evidence of officers accepting bribes.

Mr. Faenza disputed Mr. Roberts' claim that half the people in the center's courtyard were not homeless. He said staffers discovered roughly 80 people who preyed upon the homeless. He said they were told to leave.

Oh. That's good to know. I'm sure they left when they were told . . . or did they?

I genuinely have sympathy for those working in this situation. I've worked with the homeless myself, and I know how heartbreakingly difficult it can be to try to get through to those with mental problems, personality disorders and the like (as evidenced by a very large proportion of the homeless).

However, it simply won't do to dismiss complaints in so cavalier a fashion. I have little doubt that Mr. Roberts' points were accurate. They're confirmed by a homeless correspondent:

Individuals have witnessed constable and police vehicles from other cities dropping off homeless or indigent people at The bridge and saying that some cities are buying bus tickets and sending their homeless to Dallas. Some claim there are individuals who are not even homeless, but just hanging out at the shelter. How many are really homeless and how are they being screened?

Are people really just dropping by for free services and meals, preying on the unfortunate and impoverished individuals who are there for help?

An anonymous source says that a survey PATH Dallas did before their departure confirmed that 50% of the people staying at The Bridge, eating the meals and utilizing the services, were not homeless.

Independent interviews done with homeless individuals who have frequented The Bridge seem to substantiate what the PATH director alleges in his letter to MDHA Director Mike Faenza.

“There is a need for more organization and rules and consequences for those who break them. I would feel safer if there was a real police presence there to discourage poor behavior, thieves and drug dealers. I refuse to stay there any longer and don’t intend to go back. “

“More and better security is needed along with rules and guidelines for facility use. Right now they have nothing but chaos with no consequences for bad behavior. It is not a safe place to be. The non-confrontational approach is not working because a few bad apples always manage to ruin things for everyone else. Lot’s of fights are taking place and some of the employees have been assaulted. The persons committing these acts are not kicked out or banned and are allowed to return to cause more trouble.”

“They have too many people with issues concentrated in one place and calling it a success instead of the chaos that it really is. The place is a zoo and all they have done is sweep the homeless into one area. This is more about getting us off the streets than providing services and that is why they are calling it a success.

Words from one who knows.

By opening such a center, with minimal investigation of those using its services, those running it have simply concentrated a widespread problem into a small geographical zone. The problems are now concentrated, held within a small compass: and when they break loose, those in and around that area are going to wish they were somewhere else. The predatory criminals who normally prey upon the homeless can now find their targets in one convenient place, without adequate policing or security; and you may be sure that they'll take full advantage.

Methinks this needs to be re-thought very quickly.


1 comment:

Harrison said...

If you build it they will come.

AHM works for an organization (funded by taxpayers) that provides free or discounted mental health, substance abuse, and housin' assistance to the usual suspects. They're also associated with PATH.

Day after day people show up from big cities--even as far away as New York and other states--demandin' (not askin' for) help because they heard the organization handed out free money. Consequently, our small city has nearly 70% homeless population downtown (and 40 years of failed "revitalization" projects) as well as one of the highest crime rates for a city of our size in the state.

Almost no tourists, though.