Veronica Simmons lives and works downtown, but said she's fearful and frustrated after one homeless man stabbed another Wednesday across from Thanksgiving Square in broad daylight.
What scared her even more was when she saw the white-bearded face of the accused killer: Leonard Rose. She knew him because he frequently panhandled in front of the 7-Eleven. Rose often sold the Stewpot’s newspaper as a way to make money.
“I talked to him,” she said. “I greet him. He's cordial, but he's not one of the people that I cross the street avoid.”
About six weeks ago, just two blocks away, police say a homeless K2 user stabbed two women. He thought they were taking pictures of them. In August, a man was stabbed to death in front of the Stewpot over a cellphone.
The latest incident sparked her to write a letter to Mayor Mike Rawlings, City Manager T.C. Broadnax and other city leaders outlining her concerns about the violence associated with a growing homeless population downtown.
Most of the shelters and services for the homeless are situated either in or near downtown, drawing them into the city’s core. Increasing numbers of homeless people sleep on the street in downtown.
“We can't put our head in the sand and pretend that there's not a problem with concentrating homelessness, putting all the people together having them out on the street without some immediate solutions,” she said.
Council member Adam Medrano shares Simmons's concerns.
“When incidents like this occur, people are afraid, and we don’t know who it could be next time,” Medrano said.
Medrano's district encompasses part of downtown, the Cedars and Deep Ellum. He organized a joint crime watch for those areas.
“We're hearing that we need more permanent supportive housing, and that's down the line but what's going to be done now like immediately,” he said. “What kind of solutions can we come up with that are now, not a couple of years down the line.”
Issues related to homelessness and the proliferation of tent cities have been on the front burner in Dallas, but solutions have been elusive.
The city held nine meetings last year asking for public input. But Medrano said many of those who took part in the meetings felt their input was ignored by the prior city manager.
“They are frustrated,” he said. “A lot of their solutions were just dismissed. They were not presented to us at council.”
Earlier this year, the Dallas City Council created a Homeless Commission. The city created an office of homeless solutions last month.
“Homelessness is not new in Dallas, but the number of unsheltered persons has increased,” said Charletra Sharp, interim director of the office of homeless solutions.
Sharp said the city has increased its street outreach efforts to the homeless. There are now four street outreach workers assigned to the central patrol division and two that have been working closely with Downtown Dallas Inc.’s safety patrol officers.
She said they are working closely with police to increase coordination and provide outreach services to get the homeless the help they need.
Medrano is trying to be patient as the new city manager works to find solutions, but he said people are growing frustrated with hearing, “We’re working on it.”
“I think when you try to have an honest discussion, sometimes you’re labeled as a homeless hater or someone that’s against the homeless,” he said. “It’s not that. Something’s wrong with the system. They’re not getting the right help.”
Medrano wants to hold entities – like The Bridge – who get city money more accountable for how they spend scarce public resources.
Simmons and Medrano agree the police only can do so much. She said she knows people who are now planning to arm themselves because they worry for their safety.
“If we don’t do something about the issues that are occurring, how can we expect business to come and grow our downtown,” Simmons said.