A devastating fire has brought a decades-old mission providing shelter and day care services to South Oak Cliff residents with special needs to a halt.
Authorities say the fire may have been started by someone seeking shelter from the cold.
A charred building is all that is left of Wesley and Shahn Place Inc. in South Oak Cliff.
The facility has provided daycare services and assisted living services for children and adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities since the 1980s.
Kemel Wesley says his mom started Shahn Place Inc. because she had a special connection to the special needs community.
Family members had developmental disabilities and there was no place for them to be cared for in the area.
“We wanted to be that beacon of light in the southern sector of Dallas, to help those families in need looking for those kinds of services and resources with someone they can trust in a family-type setting,” Wesley said.
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And they did, until Black Friday night.
Wesley says everyone was gone for Thanksgiving break when he received a call about flames consuming much of his building located along E. Ledbetter Drive.
“They said someone must have broken in trying to stay warm, trying to start a fire,” he said. “We had no fatalities, nobody died, no one was hurt so we're thankful for that.”
Dallas Fire-Rescue tells NBC 5 the cause of the fire is undetermined and that nothing has been ruled out. However, investigators believe the fire started in a mattress found inside a closet near the front of the building. That apartment and Wesley acknowledge the presence of homeless individuals in the area.
Making matters worse, rebuilding won't be easy.
“It's not easy. We didn't have insurance,” Wesley said.
He says the pandemic hit them hard. They had to close and went from having a few dozen clients to just a handful. They opted to drop insurance coverage.
Wesley and his wife are now offering clients shelter in their own home and hope the community his family has served for decades will help them rebuild.
“If we could have one thing it's to get this place up and running so I can get these kids in a nurturing environment where they know people care about them and love them,” he said.
The facility set up a go fund me which can be found here.