Living a life in homelessness has countless challenges: from no sense of security to no protection from the elements.
A stark contrast is what’s available in South Dallas at the Cottages at Hickory Crossing. It’s a community of 50 tiny homes, run by the non-profit CitySquare, under the leadership of CEO Larry James.
“It was a collaborative effort that played out over several years,” James said while sitting on a park bench in the open courtyard area in the middle of the cottages. “It was a very difficult effort to develop, but the finished product, I think, is very pleasing and it’s been very useful.”
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The cottages — and its on-site community center that offers free medical care, counseling, support groups, how-to-live classes and bible study — are for chronically homeless people who create the biggest financial burden on Dallas tax payers.
Being “chronically homeless” means they are frequent users of emergency rooms, they’ve spent time in jail, and have been on the streets for an extended amount of time.
“This is mine, right here,” said Carl Oatman, while sitting on the front porch of his 420 square foot cottage where he has lived for the past year and a half. Before moving into the Cottages at Hickory Crossing, Oatman said he was homeless for 22 years.
“Oh, I love it,” Oatman said about his home. “If you come from where I come from, you’re in heaven, because I stayed on the street a long time.”
Oatman is welcome to live in his cottage forever, at no cost to him, but there is still a price.
The Cottages at Hickory Crossing cost $8.4 million dollars, most of which, was privately funded. Dallas County contributed $1.5 million and the City of Dallas contributed $1 million.
“Homelessness is definitely a challenge here in the city of Dallas,” said Monica Hardman the managing director of the Office of Homeless solutions at Dallas City Hall.
She said the Cottages at Hickory Crossing are a benefit to everyone in Dallas, not just the homeless.
“I would absolutely say that it’s saving taxpayers money because number one, they have a roof over their head,” Hardman said. “Number two, they have those wrap-around support services so they can really be connected and have the care that they need without, you know, being rushed to the hospital or having an ambulance or a firetruck have to come pick them up.”
But, out of the 4,000+ people identified in the most recent homeless count, these cottages are only helping 50 of them.
We asked CitySquare CEO, Larry James, if the cottages are worth it.
“Yes,” James answered. “The impact on the people is the number one priority, of course, of all of us... the human factor is everything here. It’s all about the people who live here and so it’s always going to be worth it.”
For Oatman, who is now working at the CitySquare Thrift Store, the cottages have helped him find stability. For CitySquare, Oatman is what success looks like for this project.
“Watching people come into their own, because they got a fair shot,” said James. “There’s nothing better than seeing someone achieve simply because someone has given them the benefit of a doubt, or given them justice, and equity and fairness.”
The CitySquare team said this type of housing development is not the solution to homelessness; however, for the people living here, it is the beginning of their solution to a stable life.