The coronavirus pandemic has contributed heavily to an “alarming rise” in the number of homeless people living in the city of Dallas, according to a homeless outreach organization.
“We have seen more homeless encampments in the last 30 days than we have in any 30 day-period ever before,” said Pastor Wayne Walker, CEO of OurCalling, a faith-based organization that operates primarily in Dallas.
“Poverty is not new to Dallas. Homelessness is not new. The number of people experiencing it is new,” Pastor Walker said.
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There were approximately 300,000 people living below the federal poverty line in the city of Dallas prior to the pandemic, according to Walker. But with the onset of COVID-19, and its record job losses, the number of people who could barely make ends meet before has shifted heavily toward those same people being forced to live on the streets.
“We have people that pull up [to food giveaways and other mobile outreach efforts] that we would have thought were volunteers [before] get out of the car and say, ‘Actually, we are here because we are homeless,’” Walker said. “So this has swept people, surprised people that would have never thought they would be in this moment they are now in - desperate need of help.”
Resources meant to help homeless people in Dallas have been stretched to the limit, Walker said. Shelters are full nightly. Food and financial donations to organizations like OurCalling are down, Walker said.
OurCalling is focused on finding long-term housing solutions for its many clients. That has proven to be increasingly difficult with the surge in demand in recent months.
To better reach the city's homeless population, OurCalling dispatches its street teams to engage with people where they are, Walker said. Because of the increase in demand for their services, Walker said OurCalling is seeking more people to serve on the street teams
In addition, OurCalling has a long-term plan to purchase and renovate a hotel in the city to help provide housing solutions for a large number of its clients.
As a result of there being few to no official options to at least temporarily house homeless people in Dallas, Walker said his group’s approach has, at times, shifted away from the city and more toward finding another place – even a city in another state – that is in a better position to help.
Walker said OurCalling has gone so far as to purchase a bus ticket for a newly-homeless person that will take them to a city that either puts the person in closer contact with their family, or one that provides a better opportunity for access to social services that homeless people often rely on.