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Entrepreneur Gives Back By Feeding Homeless In Dallas' Tent City

Christopher Connelly/KERA

2015 was a good year for Matthew Newman. The Dallas entrepreneur decided to give back today by hosting a catered lunch for the residents of Tent City, a sprawling homeless encampment under the I-45 freeway in downtown Dallas.

Matthew Newman is a planner: he showed up at Hickory Street under the freeway with a binder full of notes and arrangements, and a strict timeline for how he wanted the day to go. But just before lunch things were off track. The food wasn’t ready and his volunteers were restless.

“Just bear with me, I’ve got another gentleman donating food and I want to make sure he’s set up,” he tells the 40 or so volunteers who arrived early to help set up.

Newman works in marketing at Samsung putting on large events and trainings. He runs a photography business and a lawn care company on the side, as well as a nonprofit dedicated to increasing composting. Just a year ago, though, he was on the financial edge. Last December, he was raking leaves for a customer, wondering how he’d figure it all out.

“The repo man was calling to repo my car. I didn’t even have much money to even go purchase trash bags to finish the job,” he says. “So it was a very tough time.”

This year, his job went from freelance to full time and his side businesses are doing well.

“I’ve been truly blessed. When I have the means to give, then I give. Then I give.”

Christmas music played out of a speaker as lunch was served. Long folding tables with plastic white table cloths are decorated with candles and pine cones. Volunteers hand out turkey, ham, green beans and macaroni and cheese. There are donated clothes and blankets and toys that’ll be handed out after lunch.

Credit Christopher Connelly/KERA

Behind this festive scene is the sobering backdrop of tent city. It’s four blocks of tents clustered in the gravel and dust. Cars speeding overhead provide a constant din. Gilbert Hernandez wound up here a year ago after he moved from Houston and couldn’t find work. He has decades of construction experience, he says, but two felony convictions from when he was younger make it hard to get hired.

“I’m walking straight, I’m not on probation or parole or nothing, I’m doing very well,” Hernandez says. “It’s just the matter of time somebody will open the door for me and give me the opportunity to get back on my feet and get off the streets”

Not everyone living in Tent City is jobless. Curtis landed a job last week with a moving company. The 56-year-old who didn’t want to give his last name, says older folks like him cluster together for safety and community.  

“You’ve just got funny people walking around here, you’ve got to watch out for perverts and stuff. But that’s alright,” he says. “People mind they’re own business. Over here we’re like a family.”

By his calculations, Curtis could be out of here in just a few weeks. By then, he says, he should be able to save enough to get an apartment.

Candace Moffitt came down to Tent City to help out with the Christmas Eve lunch. “Hey love,” she calls out to people as she makes the rounds, “you know there’s food up there?”

She’s been homeless herself, lived out of her car for a bit in college but she’s in a good place now, so she makes it part of her life to help out by handing out blankets and sandwiches and working with Tent City residents at least once a month.

“It’s like there’s more days to the year than Christmas and Thanksgiving. There’s more good people down here than there are bad people,” she says.

Moffit says there’s plenty of food in Tent City today, but worries what people will eat next week. So she hopes the generosity and holiday spirit can last beyond the season.

Christopher Connelly is a reporter covering issues related to financial instability and poverty for KERA’s One Crisis Away series. In 2015, he joined KERA to report on Fort Worth and Tarrant County. From Fort Worth, he also focused on politics and criminal justice stories.