The line outside the building OurCalling formed early on December 16th. By the time dinner was served about an hour later, at least 60 people were seated around tables all throughout the building, with many more expected.
The facility, which is located at 1702 S Cesar Chavez Blvd, isn’t a shelter but with a zero-barrier entry policy (no ID required) the doors are flung wide open for anyone needing help when temps dip below freezing.
Temperatures are expected to rise in the area, but a frigid overnight would leave many more of the city’s unsheltered homeless residents who can’t make it to OurCalling or another shelter option vulnerable and exposed.
“1 in 5 folks don’t have shelter or a bed so we aren’t grandstanding when we say we are protecting human life,” said Executive Director and Pastor Wayne Walker. “If we close, people will die.”
Dallas’s ban on churches and other religious organizations’ ability to shelter the homeless during severe weather was finally lifted just a few weeks ago, but with a catch: The new rules exclude organizations from operating downtown. The decision was made in light of the fact that there are already shelters downtown that provide year-round help.
In the area composed of more than 1.3 million people, 300,000 of those residents live in poverty and another 600,000 live in “housing-distressed environments” (falling behind on rent and mortgage payments).
But in a state currently experiencing both a high priced housing market and a high unemployment rate, the numbers could continue to rise.
“Many [people] who come to us are experiencing homelessness for the first time and it can be hard to ask for help,” said Ali Hendricksen, who serves as associate development manager for the faith-based non-profit. “We’re here to say, ‘We will help you, we’ve got you and we will take care of you.'”
There are no beds to set up, so by the end of the night, folks would be spread out around the sprawling, 32,000-square-foot downtown facility with their belongings. But it’s clean, warm and dry; perhaps that is all that matters.
One man paused in the doorway before being motioned in: “Is there room for me?”