- The Washington Times - Monday, May 22, 2006

DALLAS — State and local officials, whose treatment of the homeless here garnered a top 10 ranking among the “meanest cities in the nation,” last week softened their approach when razing the city’s two main homeless encampments.

Before bulldozing the makeshift living quarters of hundreds of homeless living under Interstate 45, Dallas sent in the city’s Crisis Intervention Unit to offer medical and mental health care, including information on alcohol- and drug-treatment programs.

The unit also provided vans to transfer the homeless to various programs. Under past practice, authorities swooped in to arrest scores on outstanding criminal warrants, often misdemeanors connected with being homeless.

“The good thing about [Thursday’s raid], nobody got a ticket and nobody went to jail,” said Ron Cowart of the crisis unit.

For Doris McCann-Henry, 60, who said she had lived in her cardboard home for about three years, the new approach was no different.

“I’m hurting. I’m bitter,” she said as she left the site with crisis workers. “All we want is to be left alone.”

The Dallas Morning News reported that she later was admitted into a housing program.

The National Coalition for the Homeless and the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty, both in Washington, have ranked Dallas as the sixth worst out of 224 cities for its treatment of the homeless in a study on the criminalization of homelessness.

Mayor Laura Miller called the distinction unfair, pointing to the November passage of a bond issue to build a $23 million homeless assistance center. Officials say the city has more than 9,000 homeless, up from about 5,500 last year.

“We’re doing great things, and they’re not considering them at all,” the mayor said. “They’re only looking at the laws, that’s all. I think we’re doing a terrific job in how we’re addressing the homeless.”

Recently enacted ordinances have placed restrictions on the city’s homeless, limiting to specific locations where volunteer organizations feed the hungry and making it illegal to possess a shopping cart off the cart owner’s property.

“They think if they harass us enough, we will just go away,” said Steve Barber, a bearded man about age 60 who said he had a “vicious” drug problem.

“But some of these people have absolutely nowhere to go,” he said. “There are a lot of decent, caring people here, but the city is a monster as far as we are concerned.”

Mr. Barber was at a shelter Friday but planned to go back “under the bridge” as he described it. He said he left knowing they would raze the place Thursday morning. “I have things to protect,” he said.

The Texas Department of Transportation, which owns and manages property under most of the state’s freeways, planned to erect new fencing to keep the homeless from returning to the camps.

If they set up camp again, said one official, “we will offer treatment first and then raze the area again.”

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