How to Help the Homeless During Winter Weather

On my way home Tuesday, the weather was on my mind for a lot of reasons, ranging from the fact that I had just gotten word that my now overjoyed child didn’t have school Thursday and Friday to how to plan to cover an event that could be something or could be nothing.

But I took a different route home yesterday, mostly because I left the office later than usual and wanted to avoid the backups along my usual route.

And then I saw it.

Tucked back behind some trees, almost imperceptibly so, was a blue tent and a smattering of someone’s belongings. It was so well hidden that I never would’ve seen it if not for the car in front of me slowing down to turn.

My thoughts about the weather quickly intersected with thoughts of whoever lives in that blue tent. Even if the area doesn’t get one snowflake, one tiny spit of sleet, temperatures are supposed to be subzero.

Way too cold for a tent to be the only thing between you and the elements.

I’ve had iffy (at best) advice from the city of Dallas regarding what to do with our homeless neighbors who might be ill or in danger of some kind. Ask a city council person, and they’ll likely tell you to call law enforcement and request a Right Care team.

I did that the last time I came across an encampment near my child’s school (I should also say that I wouldn’t have called anyone if it hadn’t been for the fact that one of the individuals appeared to still be wearing a hospital gown and was in a wheelchair).

Instead of a Right Care team, I got a phone call from a police officer who explained that they “aren’t allowed to” address homeless people unless they’re breaking a law or are a victim of crime. He suggested another number to call.

This time, I decided to get in touch with OurCalling, a faith-based organization that works with homeless individuals daily.

“What,” I asked them, “should someone do if they come across an encampment and know some pretty deadly weather is headed this direction?”

Patrick Palmer, chief advancement officer at OurCalling, said notifying the organization can get help (or at least the offer of help) to homeless individuals.

“The simple answer is that the very best thing someone can do is notify an outreach team to go and visit the homeless encampment,” he said, adding that OurCalling has actually made it very simple to do so through its OurCalling app.

“When you download the app, it has an ‘identify’ button that simply lets you share the location and details of a homeless encampment you have seen,” he explained. “After submitting the camp, our outreach teams are notified and they respond by visiting and offering that person help off the street.”

To download the app or learn more about it, click here.

The city of Dallas’s Office of Homeless Solutions announced it would add Fair Park’s Automobile Building as an additional Temporary Inclement Weather Shelter. It will open at noon Wednesday, and can be reached by taking DART to Fair Park. DART will be offering free fares through February 6.

Those needing relief from the cold can also visit any city recreation facility or library during their normal hours, and the city also created a map of emergency warming stations you can access here.

And the Metro Dallas Homeless Alliance has created this handy graphic of all the local warming stations, too.

And, as always, organizations helping homeless individuals can always use funds. OurCalling is one of them, but Austin Street Shelter, the Stewpot, The Bridge, Family Gateway, and many more are also assisting the homeless. Dallas ISD’s Homeless Education Program maintains an Amazon Wish List for items that homeless students and families in the district need.

Bethany Erickson

Bethany Erickson, Digital Editor at People Newspapers, cut her teeth on community journalism, starting in Arkansas. Recently, she's taken home a few awards for her writing, including first place for her tornado coverage from the National Newspapers Association's 2020 Better Newspaper Contest, a Gold award for Best Series at the 2018 National Association of Real Estate Editors journalism awards, a 2018 Hugh Aynesworth Award for Editorial Opinion from the Dallas Press Club, and a 2019 award from NAREE for a piece linking Medicaid expansion with housing insecurity. She is a member of the Education Writers Association, the Society of Professional Journalists, the National Association of Real Estate Editors, the News Leaders Association, the News Product Alliance, and the Online News Association. She doesn't like lima beans, black licorice or the word synergy. You can reach her at [email protected].

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