DALLAS -- Tanya Ragan lives in downtown Dallas where she owns a business. But she and the other people who live and work there have a stinky problem: The smell of human waste.
“You know there are times walking down the street that there is a very, very strong distinctive odor,” said Ragan, who served on the city’s homelessness commission and was appointed last year. “You know you may arrive at your business and find that is has been used as public restroom throughout the night.”
It’s Dallas’ Park Avenue, a tiny street in downtown – with First Presbyterian Dallas on one end. The Stewpot is in the middle. It’s a place where the homeless can be seen lining the walls of buildings.
Diarrhea stains discolor the building on one side at the corner of Park and Marilla Street. The smell of human waste pervades that area, as well as a community garden across the street.
That stench is a symptom of the larger problem confronting Dallas, a city with about 4,000 homeless people and only 2,000 shelter beds. Mayor Mike Rawlings, who attends the nearby church, was not happy about what he saw and smelled.
“It's one of the real collateral byproducts of homelessness,” Rawlings said. “We can dramatize feces, but the bigger issue is that people don’t have a house. Most of these folks are mentally ill and a lot of these folks are self-medicating, and until we as a city, as a state and as a nation focus on this, we’re going to continue to have this.”
On Wednesday the Dallas City Council is scheduled to vote on a plan to create a new governmental entity to combat the city’s homeless problem.
But there are two competing plans on the board that would oversee it.
One would involve creating a regional homeless commission with 23 members: 15 of whom would be appointed by the Dallas City Council, six by the Dallas County commissioners and two by the city manager.
The second plan would only involve appointing 15 members by the council.
Rawlings, who served as Dallas’ homeless czar before coming mayor, is pushing for a larger board. Ragan favors the plan for the smaller board. She believe that approach would be more accountable to Dallas taxpayers.
“We need a commission looking out for Dallas,” Ragan says. “We’ve got to do something at the city level and we’ve got to do it faster than we’ve been currently doing -- and we’re failing miserably.”
Councilman Philip Kingston also supports the Dallas-centric board.
“These are Dallas problems,” Kingston says. “We need Dallas people to solve Dallas’ problems.”
On Park Street, drug deals occur out in the open. Drug dealers make the neighbors fearful. Users of K-2 are frequently seen staggering in the street and trash bags of what appear to be people’s belongings line the street.
Police frequently come through, making arrests. WFAA was there Monday as officers arrested two men.
“He's very intoxicated,” an officer said about one of the men. “He just smoked something.”
For a while there was a police RV parked in front of the community garden. Ragan asked that it be moved because it ultimately became covered in human waste. The homeless were using it as a shield to go to the bathroom.
Ragan says there’s a balance between protecting the homeless but also protecting the people who live in and work in the area.
But she remains frustrated by what she sees and smells every day.
“Do you think they’d accept this up in North Dallas?” Ragan says. “Do you think they’d accept this over in Highland Park? … I can’t think of anywhere. So why is it acceptable here? Why is it acceptable for the neighbors, the business owners and even the homeless to be exposed to all this?"