With Their Futures in the Balance, Dallas Homeless Feeling Voiceless

DALLAS -- The day started with a prayer, Dallas’ homeless, hand-in-hand, asking their maker for help.

"Father, we ask that you would turn the hearts of the leaders of the City of Dallas towards us, and that they would look upon us and see that we truly have a desire to change.”

Change hasn’t been easy to come by for Marion Warren.

Let out of prison in April after spending 32 of his 51 years behind bars, he ended up on the streets. There was no family to take him in, and his status as a convicted felon kept him out of good housing options.

Now, as he spends nights asleep on the curb, he’s found a new course.

"My heart’s greatest desire is to make compensation for all the wrong, for all the hurt that I’ve done,” he said.

Warren is one of the thousands of homeless in Dallas who are stuck in the middle of an argument.

Part of the city’s Homeless Commission wants more shelters, while the others want better housing options for those doing without.

Warren knows what side he’s on.

“Shelters are not the answer,” he said. “One of the things I’ve witnessed for the past five months is that shelters are just a safe haven for criminal activity.”

Daniel Roby is the executive director of Austin Street Center, a 400-bed shelter in Dallas. He’s also a member of the Homeless Commission, and while his reasoning is different, his side of the argument is the same.

If you’re defining the problem as homelessness, at some point in time somebody has to transition into a home,” Roby said. “You can’t fix the issue of homelessness without providing a home.”

He was quick to point out, though, that it would be irresponsible to send homeless Dallasites into homes without the proper foundation in their lives.

“It’s really essential that we don’t transition people into housing without providing the appropriate social services that they need,” he said.

The homeless agree, and some of them even have their own plans.

“My plan is to start a non-profit organization designed created and dedicated to being the change you want to see,” said Stephanie Wofford, who is currently homeless. “It’s a five-year self-sufficiency program. We’re not doing anything to make sure people are self-sufficient. Dallas Dream Centers is my solution.”

The plan, if implemented the way Wofford sees it, would require all hands on deck.

“From foster care to corrections to homeless shelters, transitional housing, social services, the workforce center. Everyone needs to be involved to make a difference,” she said.

Not convinced? Warren has another idea.

“Take them out of the shelter and give them a residence, say for a two-year period of time and then work out a program that they could work,” he said. "Give them a goal that they must meet. In working toward this goal it can show their sincerity toward change.”

The key here is that those most affected, the homeless people themselves, are wondering why they don’t get a say about their futures.

"We are the voice of where we’re falling through the cracks,” Wofford said. "You don`t really find the holes in the system until you are living it.”

And they want the city to know that this isn’t about a handout.

"The movement is a genuine movement of love,” Warren said. “We're not reaching out in greed trying to harbor something for ourselves.”

The one thing they all agreed on is that it’s going to take every one of us to solve this problem once and for all.

“It feels, sometimes, like a daunting task,” Roby said. “However, there’s great progress that is happening in the city, and if people would get behind that support with their time, with their talent, with their treasure; and if they’d voted based on recognizing that resources are needed in the City of Dallas, realize we have a social structure that needs our support."