Bridge Homeless Shelter Under New ‘Good Neighbor’ Rules

Dallas' largest homeless shelter is operating under a new set of rules aimed at making it a better neighbor, but residents in a nearby community say the guidelines are only making things worse.

The contract the Bridge Homeless Recovery Center, 1818 Corsicana Street, signed with the city of Dallas last month includes a new Good Neighbor Agreement.

It makes the shelter responsible for securing and maintaining a two-block radius around its perimeter, keeping it clear of any nuisances and code violations. The boundary touches the Cedars, Farmers Market and Central Business District.

Some residents in the Cedars neighborhood say the new policy has left the city's homeless on their doorstep and are calling for the boundary to be redrawn.

"It deliberately pushes the most marginalized of our homeless neighbors into the Cedars. It deliberately pushes them over the fence into the neighbors yard," said Phillip Robinson, Cedars Neighborhood Association President.

Shelter officials negotiated the boundary with the city and said it represents all the Bridge can afford to maintain without asking for more funding from the city.

"We are not a safety company or a maintenance company.We are a homeless services provider, that's our bread and butter. Every dollar that we take out of that and put into cleaning up a neighborhood is dollars that we are taking away from people who desperately need it," said Sam Merton, the shelter's chief operations officer.

The two sides have until spring to come to an agreement.

The Bridge and Cedars have coexisted on opposite sides of Interstate 30 for a decade.

Robinson has lived in the neighborhood for twenty years. He's seen many nights where the Saint Paul Street Bridge was flooded with people who could not or would not go to the Bridge.

On some nights people would line both sides of the overpass to sleep through the night.

The city has made it the Bridge's responsibility to secure and maintain the overpass, but Robinson said it's being done at the expense of the Cedars - endangering the community's public health, safety, and economic future.

"Their work is directly responsible for the activity that you see ongoing here." Robinson said, as a group of homeless people swarmed a car outside Dallas Heritage Village.

A man got out and began to pass out clothes.

The scattered plastic bottles, fast food wrappers, and cups scattered on the sidewalk are remnants of a good Samaritan handing out food.

Part of the reason many people who cannot or will not go to the Bridge is because they can still receive vital services, like food and clothing, nearby.

"When we said, 'Clean up the Saint Paul Bridge,' we want you to give services to people on the Saint Paul Bridge, to get them off the street, not move them down the street," Robinson said. "You've put the issues you don't want to cope with just outside where you have to worry about it. Then you forget about it. That's what the Bridge is doing."

Merten said the shelter has done its part to be a good neighbor.

He points to recent economic development and a reduction in crime in the area around the shelter, including the Cedars, as evidence that the Bridge is doing its part to improve the quality of life in the area.

"I don't think that anybody's been able to claim that there's anything that we're doing poorly. I just don't think those massive gains in real estate investment, property values, crime [reduction] would have happened had we not been around because this area used to be homeless encampments," he said.

Merten said he's willing to extend the boundary, but he doesn't know where the additional money will come from. He said resources are limited at the shelter, which Merten said sees about 1,000 people come through its gates each day.

The Bridge receives about $4 million from the city annually, representing more than half of the $6.4 million in public funding the organization receives.

"That's what we feel comfortable doing with our current resources. What I've told the Cedars folks and what we told the city too is if they want us to expand that reach into the Cedars give us the funding to do it," Merten said. "We aren't telling them to go to the Cedars, but I think it's natural that they're going to go in that direction because for decades DPD and other people have kind of pushed them south."

The Bridge must also finalize agreements with the Farmers Market, and Central Business District.

Robinson hopes the two sides can come to an agreement for the sake of the neighborhood''s future and the future of the city's homeless.

"Every resident of the Cedars wants every un-homed neighbor to have that help, but we don't want them pushed and further marginalized," he said. "His budget covers helping the homeless. He doesn't need one more dime to try to cleanup down here. He needs to bring people into his facility and help them there."

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