By Abigail Kuch Reynolds
During last week’s Dallas City Council meeting, council members unanimously shot down a proposal for temporary shelters spread throughout the city in recreation centers as a temporary solution to the city’s critically growing number of homeless. In lieu of that proposal, members of the Council turned their attention to a possible full-time proposal in one location in District 7: the shuttered Timberlawn Behavioral Health System.
Timberlawn’s unsuitability as the permanent location for a homeless shelter can be argued from at least half a dozen angles. The City Council’s attention on it has left many of the surrounding area residents, such as myself, baffled at the suggestion and fearful of its serious ramifications for the area we’ve invested in as our home.
Timberlawn, a former behavioral health center, is the oldest private psychiatric facility in the state and boasts architectural beauty in a building that is more than 100 years old. These characteristics may make the main building eligible to be recognized as a historic landmark in the state of Texas. Timberlawn maintains 20 acres of sprawling landscape lined with mature trees, whose shade and dignity contribute to the elegance of the property.
The iconic landmark formerly provided private health services for those necessitating in-patient care and sits south of I-30 within Dallas city limits, minutes from the bustle of downtown Dallas. But it is nestled within a thriving residential community formally referred to as “Buckner Terrace.” The neighborhood is composed of a heterogeneous group of residents whose pride and investment in their neighborhood can be exhibited in their ability to unite in protest of a potential homeless shelter. Close to 1000 signatures on an online petition to City Council garnered in less than a week. This petition, I may note, has never been formally canvassed in-person, but is the result of viral sharing on Social Media, spreading like virtual wildfire throughout our small community.
As residents of Buckner Terrace, we represent the gentrification component in an evolving city and changing landscape of Dallas, which maintains its position as a booming metropolitan area with a stable and prosperous economic job market. It’s a location many of us chose to move to from out of state for the promise of affordable housing and a stable, cohesive community.
And now, a single City Council decision could destroy it.
Not only does Timberlawn fall exactly one mile from East Dallas’ newest charter school, Uplift White Rock Hills Preparatory (servicing children aged Pre-K through 3rd grade), but at least three other elementary schools are within two miles or less of Timberlawn, including Royal Priesthood School, roughly ⅓ mile from the location. Dallas Children’s Advocacy Center is .5 miles away from Timberlawn and offers therapy and resources to abused children with a steady flow of in and out of the area throughout the day.
When homeless individuals who sleep in Timberlawn’s facility are asked to leave during these daytime hours to return in the evening for overnight lodging, where will they go?
There exists one two-lane road to access the gated community referred to as the “Enclave at Grove Hill,” which is directly adjacent to Timberlawn’s property. Bus stops for the 110 and 111 routes on Samuell Blvd. are the only public transportation access in sight from Timberlawn’s property. The nearest DART Rail station (Lawnview Station) is more than 2 miles away. Other than a few small convenience stores, the closest grocery store is at least a mile and a half away and the immediate area lacks any helpful retail locations in close enough proximity to serve as beneficial resources for those who may inhabit the space. The nearest police station is in Deep Ellum, over 4 miles away. In addition, noticeably absent in geographic proximity to Timberlawn are any hospitals, calling into question the suitability of this location for medical care for those individuals who may require additional resources besides a bed, a warm meal, and a roof over their heads.
But Councilman Lee Kleinman of District 11 doesn’t seem to think that the homeless even require that, suggesting that one of the strengths of the Timberlawn location is the outside space where people can hang out and sleep outside. In fact, he is quoted on NBCDFW.com as stating that the property could “accommodate homeless people that prefer to remain outside.” Yes, he is really suggesting that part of his solution to the ever-growing homeless population in Dallas is encouraging them to sleep outdoors on Timberlawn’s property. Out of sight, out of mind? For those like me who drive past the property multiple times a day, it would very much be in-sight and at the forefront of our minds.
Perhaps some council members and Mayor Rawlings need a refresher on crime with regards to homeless shelters. The Washington Post reported that a recent study conducted by the Urban Institute confirmed an increase in crime up to 30% within 500 feet of homeless residences that housed 89 or more individuals. Timberlawn as a hospital had 144 hospital beds and Councilman Kleinman suggested adding additional space for more individuals in the proposed location.
My children, as well as countless others, lay their heads at night beneath their unicorn nightlights and outer space themed pillow cases about 500 feet from Timberlawn. City Council was quick to pass the baton of the homeless crisis to a more economically diverse area like Buckner Terrace, but did they consider the ramifications for those inhabiting the area? Should District 7 only bear this brunt? I hope not, because otherwise we chose poorly on the elected officials to represent all of our best interests, including those of the homeless.
In 2005, voters approved a $24 Million dollar Bond package for the city to build the Bridge, the city’s current largest homeless shelter. Timberlawn wouldn’t be far behind in size, and may even exceed these numbers if Councilman Kleiman gets his way to increase the structure’s total capacity. Back in February, the Bridge Homeless Recovery Center signed on to a ‘Good Neighbor Agreement’ aimed at maintaining a 2 block radius of cleanliness and order surrounding the perimeter of the facility. NBCDFW reported that neighbors said the impact of the Agreement made things worse for their area, and instead thrusted the homeless population from this shelter onto their doorsteps. Yet when asked about securing a larger area to protect the residents adjacent to the shelter, NBCDFW.com quoted the shelter’s COO as stating, “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.”
So what’s to say the same issue wouldn’t happen in our area? A copy of City Council’s recreation proposal has security staying “at least one half hour after closing.”
Where’s the additional security after 10:30 p.m.?
Homelessness is on the rise in Dallas, and City Council’s slide deck proposal states a 24% increase since 2017 for unsheltered homeless in Dallas. The demand exceeds the available infrastructure, but it’s also significant to note that many homeless individuals elect to remain as such. Many are mentally ill or battle addiction issues and haven’t received proper treatment. Many are simply down on their luck and are facing hardships most can’t fathom, a situation that any of us could end up in given the right (or wrong) circumstances. No matter their story, their identities as members of our community shouldn’t be ignored and the proposal to offer them resources to help launch them back to realizing their potential is admirable. As evidenced by the Bridge downtown, residential areas are not the solution for the homeless shelters. Timberlawn is not a responsible fit for the residents of the community, or for the homeless population who will need appropriate resources for their care.
As a recent Dallas transplant and homeowner, whose largest financial investment is my residence, I should not be made to feel guilty for defending my neighborhood’s property borders against any new infrastructure that may gamble with the peace or security of our community, or my own family’s financial security. Our neighborhood has seen a recent spike in crime since Timberlawn closed its doors earlier in the year. Recently, a man was in my backyard, peering at my daughter through our back window as she dressed herself for the day. The responding police officer told me that it was most likely a homeless individual who was squatting on Timberlawn’s property. Was this officer making assumptions? I don’t think so. He told me his hypothesis was founded upon the dozens of extra incidents that his patrol unit has had to respond to with this very circumstance. He told me that until Timberlawn’s property was able to be secured with a new purpose, the large community of homeless that are currently inhabiting the area as squatters will continue to show their presence in our neighborhood, a presence that City Council members are now considering to multiply and make permanent, against the will of nearby residents, and against the better judgment of suitability for the homeless themselves.