highland hills apartments

Nonprofit Continues Support for Residents Displaced by Apartment Explosion

With uncertainty looming over how long residents can stay at temporary hotels, Not My Son and other groups keep supplies and resources flowing

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From burglaries to fires and fear of homelessness -- the troubles continue for displaced residents of the apartments that were damaged and destroyed in last month's explosion in southern Dallas.

Besides the building that was destroyed, two other buildings at Highland Hills Apartments had utilities cut off for safety reasons and damage repair, resulting in a total of about 200 people being pushed into displacement.

The city of Dallas' Office of Emergency Management stepped up to cover costs of hotel rooms for those residents who had no where else to go.

“No one is going to be displaced, they can still stay in the hotel,” said city councilman Tennell Atkins during a press conference on Oct. 3. “We’re going to make sure those families are taken care of.  That’s my number one concern.”

His district covers the area where the apartments are located.

Rocky Vaz, the city's emergency management director, had established a cutoff date of hotel payments for Tuesday, Oct. 19. It was based on when it was expected for the livable units to have utilities again, though Vaz stressed that plan could be adjusted if needed.

Nonprofits helping these families told NBC 5 this week that city leaders seem to be sticking to their word that no one will be pushed out of their hotels until every person is taken care of.

“Since the city of Dallas did give their word that they were going to be making sure that nobody was displaced, I’m definitely going to hold them to that. But I’m hoping that they do the right thing,” said Tramonica Brown, founder of Not My Son, the local organization taking the lead with other nonprofits in bringing supplies and resources to residents.

The city of Dallas told NBC 5 in a statement on Monday that while it has covered the cost for hotel stays, the property owner is ultimately responsible for paying for it. A city spokesperson also clarified that displaced tenants will continued to be sheltered until they can safely return home.

NBC 5 has reached out to Odin Properties, the company that manages the apartments, for clarity on what their plans are for residents still in limbo for housing. We have not heard back.

Brown said they've been in close contact with the property owners and the city, helping many people move on to new apartments. Others have been given vouchers to other housing, with some having their rent paid until December.

“I feel like at the end of the day we still have to realize that these are still people. And that out of a tragic situation some thing positive can happen," said Brown. “We’re here to triage the situation and massage it as best we can. To make sure that they walk out out of that traumatic situation at least with something better than what they started in."

She added there are still about 60 people left who are either waiting to get back into their units at Highland Hills Apartments or waiting for new housing.

A recent email sent to residents by the management company said it's still evaluating those damaged buildings and making exterior repairs before residents can move back in.

Either way, Not My Son said it needs donations for supplies, replacement furniture and other household items as they continue helping residents for long the haul. Volunteers are also welcome.

Click here for more information on getting involved.

"We get to go on, but somebody has to hold the torch until we get the majority – at least those in crisis – we need to make sure we're taken care of because it's not their fault or any of this happened,” said Brown. “We’re working with everybody to make sure that we can get the proper dosage of whatever we need to each person – and that each case can be closed with the intent that everything they needed to be solved, is solved. And even then, they have another pathway to something greater."

Still, the stories of struggle are starting to add up despite everything these residents have been through. Displaced residents have reported incidents of burglaries in their homes over the past week, while the damaged buildings are vacant for repairs.

"Miss Tilley, one of the residents that I hold near and dear, she has 11 children. Not only did they break into her house one day but the next day, they came and set her car on fire,” said Brown. "Another lady, Miss Bianca, her son is a cancer patient. And she's doing the very best she can as far as going back-and-forth to work, making sure that her child has everything that he needs on top of her other children that she has."

Brown said TVs, game consoles and other valuables were taken from apartments.

Dallas Police told NBC 5 that officers have arrested one man but the investigation continues. The department has also increased patrols to the area to coincide with private security provided by the property owners.

Dallas Fire-Rescue is also still looking for leads on the case of the resident's vehicle that was set on fire late Thursday, Oct. 14.

Meantime, two Dallas firefighters severely injured in the blast – Cpt. Chris Gadomiski and Ron Hall – are still in the hospital. However, DFR said told they continue to make progress.

Another firefighter, Pauline Perez, was discharged Friday.

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