Hundreds scramble for Dallas County rental vouchers

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by CYNTHIA VEGA and REBECCA LOPEZ

Bio | Email | Follow: @rlopezwfaa

WFAA

Posted on July 14, 2011 at 12:11 PM

Updated Friday, Jul 15 at 12:22 AM

DALLAS — At least eight people were hurt Thursday morning while scrambling to line up for a limited number of Dallas County rental vouchers — after waiting for hours in their cars.

People lined up Thursday morning to apply for Dallas County Section 8 housing vouchers. Dallas County sheriff's spokesman Kim Leach estimated the crowd at about 5,000.

The office at the Jesse Owens Memorial Complex wasn't supposed to open until 8 a.m., but some applicants started lining up at 10 o'clock Wednesday night.

Police kept people off school district property until the gates opened at 6 a.m. That resulted in a long string of cars lined up on the streets.

Doors were opened early.

Hundreds of  people rushed the line, causing moments of unruliness.

"I started running and I slipped and fell," said applicant Jordan Spivey, who suffered cuts and scrapes as she was caught up in the crowd. But she said she feels lucky that she wasn't trampled.

"It was a madhouse," said applicant Ada McKinsey, who was injured as the crowd closed in around the door. "People pushing, fighting."

But authorities eventually gained control.

Seven people were treated by paramedics. None were taken to the hospital.

The question is: Why didn't organizers plan for more people and have more security in place to keep the crowds under control?

Organizers of the event said they didn't plan for people to start arriving until Thursday morning. But people who started showing up as early as Wednesday afternoon were told to come back later, so people started lining up.

The parking lot to the facility was closed, so applicants had to park along the streets in the neighborhood.

The Dallas County Sheriff's office said that they planned for the event, adding that Dallas police should have had patrol officers out directing traffic.

But, according to DPD, they weren't notified there was any problem until after 6 a.m. Dallas police did send some officers to the scene, but were told the county had it under control.

"There is no perfect way we feel with Dallas, DISD and Dallas County security that we have managed the situation well," said Dallas County Health and Human Services Department director Dr. Zachary Thompson. "Of course, we have people break line, running. That's to be expected."

But Dallas police said they could have controlled the crowds better had they known in advance about the event and been involved in its planning.

High-ranking Dallas officers said they weren't informed, so they didn't have a plan in place. they could have had their response teams ready and extra patrol officers. The county and DISD were in charge of security.

The federally-subsidized vouchers pay a portion of the rent, based on household income.

This is the first time in five years that the Dallas County waiting list for vouchers has been open.

Even though there was a lot of confusion on Thursday morning, once applicants got inside, the process was a lot easier.

Anyone who wanted to apply for a Section 8 housing voucher had to fill out a one-page form in person through Dallas County Health and Human Services.

Health officials said they processed 4,000 to 5,000 applicants on Thursday morning, adding that as many as 15,000 could ask to be put on a list with only 3,800 vouchers available over the next few years.

So just filling out the form doesn't mean applicants will get help with their rent. Thompson emphasizes that they meet eligibility requirements.

"This process is a real user-friendly process," Dr. Thompson said. "It may be two to four years before they actually receive a voucher."

The application center was scheduled to remain open until 5 p.m. Thursday at the Ellis Davis Field House, 9191 South Polk Street, in Dallas.

E-mail cvega@wfaa.com and rlopez@wfaa.com

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