Thursday, August 6, 2015

Downtown Dallas Panhandling - Solutions and Suggestions


"Local's on the Street"

My 411 on the History of the Dallas Panhandling Ordinance, Concerns for Public Safety & Need for Stronger Downtown Enforcement


 

A group of 10 men entered the 7-Eleven in Downtown Dallas, West End at 11:15pm on 8-11-15. Within minutes they exited the 7-Eleven with the Manager chasing after them for shoplifting.  One of the individuals stole a 40 oz. and a verbal argument ensued. The individuals continued walking to the nearby West End Dart Station to loiter.

 
What the general public and community need to understand is this is business too. We have families, children and new residents moving downtown Dallas and we need to make our downtown safer. The panhandling, mental illness and vagrancy is impacting the businesses investing in our downtown.  We need to address these issues head on, talk about it, and hold businesses and religious groups who enable the problem responsible.  Each dollar you give the panhandler standing outside 7-Eleven,....you just bought them one more hour, day, week, month, etc on the street.
 
 
The individuals entering the 7-Eleven in Downtown Dallas, West End to shoplift.


In 2007, the City Council passed an ordinance making it illegal to solicit between sunset and sunrise. It was intended to give Dallas Police more authority to write tickets and address the loitering and panhandling problem Downtown. Read the full ordinance here.

In 2009, with panhandling still a major problem; Downtown Dallas Inc decided to try and help from their end by implementing a “zero tolerance” policy that applied to panhandling, as well as other minor offenses such as public intoxication , urination and sleeping in public. The Dallas Morning News described the situation in the following article.

With the homeless population increasing daily and out-of-state transients relocating to Dallas & The Bridge Homeless Shelter; area's such as Deep Ellum, Farmers Market & The Cedars became more depressed and isolated.  The issues with loitering, panhandling, mental illness, and quality of life continued to escalate....bringing with it crime, drugs, increased dependency, and general neglect.

In 2010, the Farmers Market Stakeholder's Association and neighborhood advocates like myself worked with the Dallas Police Department to raise donations to open a storefront police station in the Dallas Farmers Market District to help address the quality of life, neighborhood crimes and public safety issues as a result of the nearby The Bridge Homeless Shelter. Farmers Market Stakeholder's even paid for a billboard in the neighborhood to educate the public on the need for stronger police presence. The old CBD substation in the West End District was closing, and area stakeholders saw an opportunity to move the station to the Farmers Market District.  A donor even came forward with a $250K donation, however, City Management decided to localize the Central Business District Police Station at Lamar Headquarters and move DPD away from the "substation" model.

In 2013, after years of battling Permanent Supportive Housing, Social Services, The Bridge and general neglect the Southeastern side of downtown shifted. The Farmers Market Stakeholder's Association, The Cedars & Deep Ellum formed a coalition called CBD Neighborhood Coalition to work with city staff, city leaders and to take on quality of life issues together. No longer working solo, the neighborhoods organized to revitalize their communities together to address shared concerns (crime, public safety, quality of life, etc).  As a result, in 2013 the Dallas Farmers Market was privatized and the Farmers Market District began to transition to a neighborhood with residents, local businesses and positive economic development possibilities. 

Most recently, there have been some setbacks with our revitalization efforts; including the announcement last week that 7-Eleven is proposing a convenience store/gas station location next to The Bridge homeless shelter, a proposed Verizon Cell Tower on a walkable street and increased incidents in the area related to quality of life issues.  Peter Simek of D Magazine wrote an article in February, 2015 asking if it was time to consider relocating The Bridge Homeless Shelter out of downtown to better serve the homeless and mentally ill.

Two weeks ago, Downtown Dallas Inc submitted a formal request to Dallas Police Department & Chief Brown asking for increased police presence, increased visibility on foot & bicycle and recommendations for a First Watch Shift from 12am-7am.  The Downtown Safety Patrol observed 19,234 nuisance crime offenses in 2014, but Dallas Police issued only 4,649 tickets.  Dallas Police must witness panhandling in order to issue a citation and write a ticket for the offense, making response times critical.

In the past few months the Downtown Dallas Social Media platforms have ignited with complaints and concerns from pissed off residents & local businesses about the increased loitering, panhandling, aggressive behavior, harassment and growing homeless & mentally ill population in Downtown Dallas.

The announcement of a ninth Downtown 7-Eleven location planned for the Farmers Market, prompted strategies online about how to enforce and stop additional 7-Eleven locations from opening Downtown and how to deal with the panhandling, loitering and general harassment around both 7-Eleven & Dart stations. 7-Eleven has not historically done a good job enforcing panhandling and often customers are harassed and heckled just walking in the front door or walking down the public street....add on the liquor sales & loitering and you have a nightmare for local businesses and residents located around it.  

7-Eleven responded to the social media outpour with a request for all complainants to take a survey: http://survey.medallia.com/?711-gr&channel=6


 
This panhandler was at the 7-Eleven in Downtown Dallas, Ross location on both 8-10-15 & 8-11-15 at 11:30pm.  Four people gave him money within two minutes.  When he saw us videotaping him he covered his face. He was so aggressive that he approached customers as they were getting out of their vehicles.
 
 
The following response from 7-Eleven was forwarded to me by a concerned Downtown worker who filled out the 7-Eleven Survey.
 
From: Jennette Bowers <7Eleven@app.medallia.com>
Date: August 6, 2015 at 9:23:59 PM CDT
To: Brian Gaddis
Subject: Your recent feedback about 7-Eleven
Reply-To: Jennette Bowers <reply-45.e65p8fnf783m9bhdczd@express.medallia.com>

Dear Brian,
Brian we work with our Franchises and the local police department to make our stores as safe and free of the homeless as possible. As the heat in downtown rises this becomes more challenging. I wanted you to know that we take your feedback very serious and will work to make our store fronts as safe as possible.
Sincerely,
Jennette Bowers        

 
 
The 7-Eleven Manager asked this panhandler to leave. He walked away and returned to the same spot 5 minutes later. A policeman walked by him and ignored him. 7-Eleven in Downtown Dallas, Deep Ellum location at 11pm on 8-12-15.

 
A group of panhandlers gathered at the 7-Eleven in Downtown Dallas, Deep Ellum location at 10pm on 8-11-15. The same individuals were back asking customers for money the same time on 8-12-15.
 
Photo Credit: Tanya Ragan
Dallas Urbanista
 
What can you do to help?
  1. Contact your City Council Members Adam Medrano & Philip Kingston, Mayor Mike Rawlings, City Manager, 7-Eleven, Dart, Downtown Dallas Inc, Dallas Police Department and share your concerns and personal stories. Tell your neighbors, local businesses, etc to do the same.
  2. Take pictures, video, Tweet and Share on Social media.  Be sure to tag the appropriate parties so they see it.
  3. Fill out the above 7-Eleven Survey and voice your concerns about panhandling & safety.
  4. Get involved with your Neighborhood Associations, Crime Watch & Community.
  5. Don't just talk about it on Facebook; Actively SHOW UP to meetings and participate!
  6. Call 911 to report panhandling, petty crimes and loitering.  Don't ignore it! We are all busy, but the way to enforce zero tolerance is to break the habit.
  7. NEVER give money to panhandlers. Donate or volunteer your time to a local charity that helps the homeless. Suggestions:  Dallas Life, Salvation Army, Family Gateway, Austin Street Shelter & Stewpot. Ask questions and find out the facts about where your money goes. Don't base your donation choice solely on religion.
  8. Advocate for stronger mental health assistance & housing for homeless who work.

 
Example of a service announcement used in another city to discourage giving to panhandlers.  Thank you Veronica Simmons for forwarding this suggestion.
     
Michael Sitarzewski, a Cedar's Neighborhood Leader, wrote a DMN Editorial recently on how to address The Bridge Homeless Shelter challenges. Although, I don't agree with all of his opinions, he brings up some excellent discussion points. As many of you know, I am an advocate for relocating The Bridge out of Downtown, to a larger facility that would include housing, shelter and be closer to resources the homeless need; such as Parkland Hospital, Salvation Army, transit, etc. This would allow all the social services and counseling necessities be housed together and not reassigned when the homeless graduate from a shelter to permanent supportive housing.


Dallas Observer detailed Downtown Dallas Inc's request for increased police presence in the following article:

Downtown Dallas Inc. Says There Aren't Enough Cops Downtown, Asks For More

Whatever else you do, pal, don't fall asleep.
Whatever else you do, pal, don't fall asleep.
 
Downtown Dallas Inc. says residents, workers and business owners downtown are dealing with too much crime and too few cops. To fix things, the nonprofit advocacy group is petitioning the Dallas Police Department to add a first watch to its patrols downtown. As things are now, calls received between 2:30 and 6:30 a.m. are handled through DPD Central Division dispatch, leading to response times DDI believes are too long.
 
It isn't that downtown is dealing with a higher proportion of crime, DDI President John Crawford says, it's just that there are more people living and working in the area. 
"Because of all this increased activity and the fact that we don't have a so-called first watch, that's the impetus for writing the letter [to DPD]," he says. "What we don't want to see is more stress on the police department and the residents."
Essentially, as reported in the white paper DDI included with its letter to DPD, downtown residents, workers and business owners are tired of the small property and nuisance crimes that are often associated with chronic homelessness. The first challenge listed by DDI is "vagrancy."
 
Downtown's vagrancy problem, as evaluated by DDI, stems from changes made at The Bridge and Austin Street homeless shelters that reduced the shelters' overnight capacities and led to more people sleeping outdoors downtown. Sleeping in public is illegal in Dallas thanks to controversial law passed in the 1990s, but DDI complains that the ordinance against it, and those against other crimes like panhandling, aren't enforced often enough. The Downtown Safety Patrol observed 19,234 nuisance crime offenses in 2014, according to DDI, but Dallas Police issued only 4,649 tickets. Because the cops have to witness panhandling to issue a citation, response times are critical DDI says.
"Without a police presence overnight, we just get a lot of folks that, whether they're homeless or just passing through, that with no police presence, they feel they can have an open container, that they can lay down in the parks and sleep. Last week, for instance, we woke up 129 people in a five-day period that, through that overnight period, were just laying around sleeping. That's a violation of a city ordinance, but there's no one present to enforce it," Martin Cramer, DDI's vice president for public safety says.
Jim Truitt, a vice president at Forest City, the management company that owns The Continental, Wilson, Element and Mercantile apartment buildings downtown, says some of his residents are scared to go Main Street Garden after dark, according to the white paper.
 
(Note: I live in The Wilson. I've never been frightened in the park after dark, nor have any of the neighbors I asked)
None of that's to say that DDI wants to criminalize homelessness, Crawford says. Panhandlers specifically, Cramer and Crawford say, aren't typically homeless.
"The vast majority of those panhandlers are not actually homeless. They're people that come downtown, predominantly on DART Rail and the bus line, to make their income," Cramer says. "That's how they make their living. That's their job," Crawford added.
After a meeting with Dallas police Chief David Brown last week, Crawford says he's hopeful downtown will get the cops, and the first watch, he and DDI want. DDI is gathering signatures from downtown stakeholders as part of a letter writing campaign to Brown.
 
Read the full Formal Letter from Downtown Dallas Inc below:
 
 
 
 
Robert Wilonsky covered the proposed 7-Eleven next to The Bridge Homeless Shelter on his City Hall Blog.  

7-Eleven wants to build convenience store, gas station blocks from farmers market, The Bridge




 

The would-be 7-Eleven near the Dallas Farmers Market and The Bridge
The would-be 7-Eleven near the Dallas Farmers Market and The Bridge
At the moment there are eight 7-Elevens in downtown Dallas, but according to development plans filed at Dallas City Hall a ninth is planned on South St. Paul Street between Canton and Cadiz — between Dallas City Hall and Dallas Farmers Market and a couple of blocks from The Bridge, the homeless recovery center. Early reviews for the proposed convenience store-gas station are decidedly mixed.
Ryan Evans, the assistant city manager who oversees economic development for the city of Dallas, says neighborhood residents and developers are concerned about two things: the potential for loitering around the 7-Eleven, and 7-Eleven’s desire to raze 1808 Canton Street, which is among the 90 structures listed as part of the Dallas Downtown National Register Historic District. That circa-1935 building would be torn down and replaced with a dumpster. Evans says no demolition or building permits have been pulled, and that 7-Eleven has asked for a pre-development meeting with building inspectors within the next couple of weeks.
Evans says Tanya Ragan, president of the Dallas Farmers Market Stakeholders Association and a downtown developer responsible for opening the nearby Green Door Public House at 600 S. Harwood, contacted him Thursday about her concerns — “liquor sales and loitering.” He says she’s not alone. Says Evans, this 7-Eleven would be “one of the first ones to move into the neighborhood, and I would hate for it to have problems both for itself and its users. I’d hate to see that.”

Crime around The Bridge has long been a hot button, and just last year Dallas police started rounding up the homeless sleeping around the farmers market. As council member Philip Kingston himself noted in a Facebook post Friday morning concerning crime in downtown, “The Bridge is in the wrong place — sited for the convenience of a few service organizations rather than for the needs of its clients — and too small — a victim of underinvestment by both the city and state. And now so many of the most antisocial homeless are excluded from even going to the Bridge owing to their previous behavior there, it’s less a solution every day.”
Then again, that’s not stopping Shannon Wynne — a Bridge board member — from opening a bar and restaurant at the farmers market, Mudhen, which is due in October. As he wrote in these very (virtual) pages just weeks ago:
I have lived here my entire life, and the people who know me know I am very conservative in business. But because I know The Bridge and I know Dallas, I have no fear whatsoever about raising and spending a great deal of money right next door to The Bridge. The energy spent by the people who want to see The Bridge moved from its beautiful campus should realize that energy would not be wasted if they instead embraced this facility that cities nationwide wish they had in their own backyard.
But it’s likely the need to demolish the Canton building will delay 7-Eleven’s plans for several months: The Dallas City Attorney’s Office is putting the finishing touches on a demolition delay ordinance as proposed by the mayor’s Downtown Historic Preservation Task Force formed following The Joule’s demolition of several downtown blocks to make room for Forty Five Ten on Main Street. As a matter of fact, says Evans, the Canton building “may be the first to go through that process.”
We’ve left messages for a host of folks, including Ragan and 7-Eleven, and will update if and when someone responds.

 

"Dallas is the only major city in Texas without police presence 24/7 Downtown."

-John Crawford, Downtown Dallas Inc