Dallas Officials Clear Out Relocated Homeless Community 'Camp Rhonda'
Dallas city officials began shutting down the homeless encampment known as "Camp Rhonda" last month, but organizers reopened the temporary site downtown in hopes of getting city leaders to find solutions to the housing problems. Now, it's closed again.
Earlier this week, a group of people experiencing homelessness ventured to downtown Dallas and began to set up an encampment one block away from City Hall. They called it Camp Rhonda.
The organizers of the temporary campsite said they came to the city's center to make a statement and to push for change.
"It's a peaceful protest for housing and to bring awareness to the conditions that people who are out on the street face, because there's clearly a lot of misunderstanding both from [City leaders] and people who are housed," said Ryan Ahmadian with Dallas Stops Evictions.
Less than a week after the first tent was set up in Pioneer Park, Camp Rhonda has been shut down again.
The unsheltered residents of this encampment were asked to vacate the plaza by 1 pm today per the city of Dallas. Police and city personnel have not started clearing the lot, but residents and organizers are tearing down tents and loading belongings into a uHaul. pic.twitter.com/aHIp1ZOjOU— Bekah Morr (@bekah_morr) March 12, 2021
Now, if you're reading this and feeling like you've got a sense of deja vu, that’s probably because Camp Rhonda was in the news last month.
At the time, Camp Rhonda was located in a vacant lot near Deep Ellum and the City of Dallas told the lot's owner the camp was to shut down because the location wasn’t zoned for residential living. The owner was given one month to clear the lot of residents.
The Deep Ellum space had been offered up to the city’s homeless community so that individuals could have a sort of “home base” where they could have mail delivered or leave their stuff without fear of losing anything during a city-wide sweep of homeless encampments.
But after Camp Rhonda closed, many of the camp's residents ended up back on the streets and looking for a place to lay their heads. The camp's organizers were frustrated because they felt as though the city disrupted their situation without a plan to place individuals in homes.
“Since they didn't want to listen to us, we thought 'You know, they have no choice but to listen to us when we come right in front of them and make sure our voices are heard,'” said Ahmadian.
Nearly 30 people lived at Camp Rhonda when it was in Deep Ellum, but the new Camp Rhonda, which was located at Pioneer Park, appeared to be housing about 50 individuals. There were close to 40 tents on the site and each tent housed at least one person experiencing homelessness, although several were housing three or four people.
A 56-year-old woman named Patricia Jo Nolan was one of the people who was camping out at the new Camp Rhonda this week. She was on-site when police and members of the Dallas Parks Department showed up to clear out the camp. She told KERA that she has no idea what she'll do now that the camp has been shut down again.
"Everywhere we go, this is what we go through," she said. "I have 15 tents! I've lost everything I've owned too many times! They take our food and treat us like animals."
Nolan said she had been employed until Christmas 2020 and that as a tax-paying resident of Dallas, she should have rights that allow her to live unprovoked without fear of having her property taken.
Ahmadian agrees. He said that when the city started closing down the first Camp Rhonda, they put a lot of folks in a tight spot because they didn't offer viable housing options.
"We don't have anywhere else to go, if you displace us and make us move there's truly nowhere to go,” he said.
Ahmadian had hoped this tactic — setting up camp downtown — would have lead to better options for Camp Rhonda’s residents. People like 33-year-old Jery Henderson who said he served in the military for eight years.
“When we were staying at a spot we called ‘Camp Forest’ near Forest and Central, the police came and took all of our stuff," he said. "Now, we have nothing.”
Henderson said he's had city officials talk about getting help for him and others, but they don't follow up.
“You know, the city talks about helping us. Well, then put us up somewhere. Instead of just ‘OK. We’re going to write your name down. We’re going to help you with your ID and all that," he said. "But then don’t come and talk to us. Don’t come to check on us, like [they] said you would.”
Henderson said shelters aren't always a realistic option. He said that many homeless shelters separate families and couples, and that’s a problem for him because his wife is the victim of abuse and only feels safe when he’s nearby.
“That tears up the family life. It tears up the relationship,” Henderson said. “If you really want to help us, keep us together. Don’t break up the family life. Put all the families in homes together.”
A spokesperson for the City of Dallas says housing is available to the residents of Camp Rhonda, and that they've offered COVID-19 testing and vaccinations as well.
"Should residents not accept the shelter resources we are providing, we will have no option but to remove them from the site," Dallas Public Affairs Officer
Roxana Rubio said.
Officials had warned protestors on Thursday afternoon that their encampment was set up on the city's park land, and that the land was also a historic cemetery. Camp Rhonda's residents were given 24 hours to vacate.
On Friday, when police arrived to make sure the Camp was shut down, Deputy Chief Thomas Castro said, "We're just giving them time to clear out. The Parks Department will clean up trash. And officers are trying to stay out of sight and out of mind."
This is a developing story.
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