News for North Texas
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

With New Cottages, Dallas' Homeless Getting Keys To A Better Future

Chronic homelessness can seem unsolvable. People bounce around from the street to jail to hospitals and back to the street. On Thursday, ground was broken on an $8 million effort to stop that cycle in southern Dallas. It's called the Cottages at Hickory Crossing.

John Rhodes is from Grand Prairie. These days, the 59-year-old spends his nights on Dallas streets.

“I was staying with my sister and I don’t know what happened,” Rhodes says. “She come and woke me up about 2 o’clock in the morning and said ‘It’s time to go.’ I said, ‘OK.’”

Some nights, Rhodes finds shelter at the Austin Street Center, a faith-based transitional facility in Dallas. He says he likes the fact that these 50 cottages will sit across from CitySquare’s Opportunity Center. The nonprofit helps get people back on their feet with job training and was instrumental in this project.

“I think it’s needed because they was saying you’ve got to get people off the streets in order for them to get to feeling better about themselves and wanting to do better,” Rhode says.

Tony Drone, a homeless, 53-year-old native of Little Rock, says the cottages sound like a good idea.

“I don’t like being out here on the street,” Drone says. “It ain’t nothing good about it.”

John Burrus, CEO of Metrocare Services, says who gets accepted into the homes will depend on a list of things -- the number of admissions for mental health treatment, severity of mental illness and criminal record.

The cottages will be built on three acres of woods near Interstate 30 and Malcolm X Boulevard, which used to be a homeless camp. The 400-square-foot homes will surround a courtyard. A 4,000-square-foot building along the street will include a laundry mat, clinical services and office for an on-site manager.

“It’s taking an approach that we use across the city already called ACT for assertive community treatment,” Burrus says. “For the folks who really struggle to get to appointments, we take care to them.”

Ron Stretcher, director of Dallas County’s Criminal Justice, says services won’t be forced on anyone.

“Before you get the housing, you don’t have to complete three months of a program, or go through so many clean drug tests,” Stretcher says. “It’s the concept that you’re not going to work on any of your recovery issues until you’ve got a stable place to live.”

He says research shows that when stable housing and services are available, people will use them. But residents also will have their independence.

“It’s not this constant threat [of] 'Hey, if I miss this appointment, I’m going to be kicked out,'” Stretcher says. “'If I have a little slipup and a relapse, I’m gonna get kicked out.'”

Stretcher says he wants to see this kind of project duplicated. He’s already gotten calls about it from other cities.

Stella M. Chávez is KERA’s immigration/demographics reporter/blogger. Her journalism roots run deep: She spent a decade and a half in newspapers – including seven years at The Dallas Morning News, where she covered education and won the Livingston Award for National Reporting, which is given annually to the best journalists across the country under age 35.