Tent City & the Problem of Relocation

Every week for the past 6 months, Andrew Robinson has spent time with us on the streets of South Dallas. The homeless encampment in our neighborhood -- the one that has been there longer than we ourselves have been -- is being shut down by the City of Dallas next week.

Andrew shares his thoughts on its closure in this guest post below. (See the original post on his blog by clicking here.)

 Andrew playing dominos with our people in Tent City

Andrew playing dominos with our people in Tent City

Guest post by Andrew Robinson

In the end we just stopped and prayed.

We did not know what else to do. It seemed as though the emotions of the day had overwhelmed all of us. I have spent a lot of years working with the homeless, and I never felt as overwhelmed and helpless as I did today.

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For the past few months I have partnered with an organization known as The Human Impact, which consists of two unbelievably passionate women, Elisabeth and Elissa. The way they love and care for their homeless friends has inspired me so much. Their lack of fear and ability to get past rough exteriors and false fronts that people put up has even enabled me to make friends in tent city much more quickly than I would have on my own.

Just a couple weeks ago we had a birthday party for one of our friends and sat around laughing and enjoying the community which had developed out there. Today, there was no laughter. Today, there were tears.

The city of Dallas has made the decision to “close” tent city. In some aspects, I get it. Tent city can be a violent place. Drugs are prevalent and there is a criminal element there which is unhealthy. However, there are also beautiful, vulnerable people there who are just trying to make it through life one day at a time. Closing tent city is not a solution. These people are still homeless. Many organizations are doing a lot to house people from tent city, but it is not enough. There are still people waiting on housing as well as people who are falling through the cracks. For those people, today felt like we were standing on Native American soil, as the Indian Removal Act was about to be put into action.

Many Native Americans died on the trail of tears. I wonder how many of Dallas’ homeless will lose their lives as they are forced into the unknown. Today felt like a trail of tears. Everywhere we turned people were in distress and crying. These aren’t hyper emotional people we are talking about either. These are tough, street-hardened men and women who have been taught to suppress their emotions yet simply could not do what they had been forced to do for years. Today, the tears flowed.

On one corner a man was folding his clothes neatly before stuffing them in a trash bag. On another corner a man stood just looking around blankly. He had just been fired from his job for not possessing a cell phone. There was a giant gap where a couple used to have a make shift store. Everywhere I turned there was confusion and hopelessness and despair. The air felt heavy. Our words felt empty.

What do we do? This seemed to be our common thought. How can we help our friends? Elisabeth, who is generally quick with a plan and optimistic, began to weep with one of our friends. It was at that moment I knew that today was different. We searched our hearts and minds for a plan or a course of action, but sadly, the decision has been made. The stage is set for yet another step in what has sadly been the story of American history which is far too often swept under the rug.

We are a people of relocation.

Our ancestors relocated here from Europe and immediately began relocating those they found here. They claimed this land as their own but it was not our land to take. We relocated Africans to our stolen land and forced them to build and farm it for us under unspeakable violence. Today, we enact laws that make the rich richer and push those at the bottom further down. Then we look at those on the very bottom of our society, the homeless, and we push them around and around and pretend we are dealing with the issue of poverty and homelessness when really all we are doing is pandering to our own aesthetics.

They say they are closing tent city because of the drugs and the violence, yet they are not solving the drugs and the violence, just moving it somewhere a little more out of our view. People lost their lives in tent city is a reason being given for closing it. Well why don’t we deal with the violence in our culture that is only mirrored in tent city rather than evicting those who already have no homes?

What if we as a people began to see the immense value in every life and began to see our own lives as interconnected with those who live on the streets, or in a tent under the interstate? What if we stopped being so overly concerned with our own safety and began to believe that the only way we can have true safety is if we rise together, as a community? If one of my brothers or sisters is left vulnerable on the streets then my own family is vulnerable as well. We will never solve poverty until we begin to see the least of these as one of us.

I feel that my words are fairly inadequate to explain to you the depth of the hurt, pain and hopelessness I experienced among my friends in tent city today. Yet words are all I have to try and paint this picture for you in the hope that hearts will be moved to step outside the deadly independence our nation has fallen into and search for the interdependence we so desperately need. We need one another.

I will leave you with one final story. As we were about to leave we ran into one of our friends we know fairly well. He told us that he just did not know what to do or where to go which was a familiar story of the day. This guy is built like a house. His voice is one of the deepest I have ever heard but he is always so kind and polite to everyone. Elisabeth read him a Bible verse about troubles not lasting forever and God being close to us and he turned away from us quickly. He did not turn quickly enough, however, for me not to see the tears flowing freely from his eyes and down his rough leathery face. This big tough man was completely broken by his situation. The streets have hardened him, but our policies have broken him. What a dilemma.

After that situation we were all at a loss. Finally, we stood on a patch of dirt and looked around and decided to do the only thing we knew to do. We prayed. Several of our homeless friends joined us as we prayed for God to deliver them and protect them and sustain them and to remind them of their great value. I think now though that the most pertinent prayer we could have prayed was already prayed by Jesus as he hung from a cross over two thousand years ago.

Abba forgive them, for they know not what they do.

Indeed Abba, forgive us. We still have no clue what we are doing.