Abandoned Buildings on Flipboard

Brenda Snitzer just might have the right kind of background to fix the clash between homeless service providers and downtown Dallas’ booming population.

Brenda Snitzer, executive director of The Stewpot

The new executive director of The Stewpot — which serves 15,000 homeless and at-risk people every year — started her career as a probation officer.

After that, she worked at a psychiatric hospital, her church and several Dallas nonprofits. She doesn’t list all the names.

“I’m trying to avoid saying I’ve had a lot of jobs,” she jokes.

But she says her varied experience is her strength.

“I’m a connector,” she says.

She’ll need connections to handle the complaints lobbed at The Stewpot and other downtown service providers for homeless people.

About 130,000 people work downtown, and around 11,000 people live in the central business district. And that number is growing.

The southeast side of downtown Dallas was once peppered with abandoned buildings. Many of the residents there lived not in expensive lofts but on cardboard pallets outside.

The development around the Dallas Farmers Market — a hip area with a lot of pedestrian traffic — has put new residents in close proximity to homeless people camping or sleeping on sidewalks.

People often mill around The Stewpot off Young Street at Park Avenue. Downtown cleanup crews spend hours every morning picking up trash in the area from there to the Bridge Homeless Recovery Center and an Interstate 30 overpass where people are known to camp out.

Kourtny Garrett, CEO of Downtown Dallas Inc., said the streets around The Stewpot have “been one of our most challenging areas of downtown.”

“We’re still at a transition in that neighborhood from one that didn’t have as much activity to one that does,” she said.

The Farmers Market resident said she is optimistic that Snitzer can work with the neighborhood to solve the problems.

Brenda Snitzer walks the halls at The Stewpot offices that features work from the agency’s art program.

Snitzer says she is meeting with business owners and neighborhood groups to hear their concerns but says the solution has to be more than moving homeless services away from the city’s center.

“Do we want economic development in our city? Yes, we do,” she said. “But we can’t just keep moving the problem around.”

In December, the Dallas City Council passed a nuisance abatement ordinance that allows police to shame properties where “habitual criminal activity” occurs by posting a sign outside.

It’s an ordinance that targets organizations serving homeless people, according to Snitzer’s predecessor, Bruce Buchanan, who retired after 30 years there.

Snitzer replaced Buchanan last month.

“There are things we need to work on with the city and the city needs to do in their role caring for the citizens in Dallas,” Snitzer said.

Also on that to-do list: panhandling and K2, a cheap synthetic marijuana.

Many homeless people battle drug addiction, especially to K2, a problem that has overwhelmed Dallas police and private security officers downtown.

Aggressive panhandlers have harassed people going to work or heading home downtown. Dallas police have tried cracking down on the panhandling and K2 problems, with little effect.

The K2 problem has plagued downtown the past two years. Last year, downtown safety patrol officers responded to 6,000 K2 calls, said Martin Cramer, vice president of public safety for Downtown Dallas Inc.

“That kind of volume would overwhelm the Dallas Police Department,” Cramer said.

Nonprofits like The Stewpot are trying to offer help to the Dallas homeless population to fix these problems, but such groups are also blamed for drawing homeless people closer to the city’s hub.

It’s a “chicken vs. the egg” issue. Which came first? The homeless people or the nonprofits trying to help them?

Ultimately, none of that matters to Snitzer. She just wants to fix the problem, not point fingers.

“The Stewpot since the ’70s has been trying to help people in these communities where nobody else was helping them,” Snitzer said.

Part of fixing the problem comes down to knowing how to work in concert with other nonprofits.

At the start of her career, while working as a probation officer, Snitzer was frustrated there was no database or list of the social services available in Dallas. She often didn’t know where to send the people she was trying to help.

Those services are still fragmented, and newly homeless or at-risk people often turn to The Stewpot to figure out what to do.

This week a man told her, “I’m newly homeless. I don’t know how to navigate a lot of this stuff.”

Snitzer now knows which nonprofits do what in Dallas and has even worked at several of them, including Our Friends Place, Girls Inc. and Big Thought.

She hopes to bring those groups together.

No matter how experienced Snitzer is, there’s little to prepare someone for balancing working with the city and people who want homeless people out of sight, said Wayne Walker, executive director of OurCalling, a homeless outreach center.

“The politics involved is ugly,” Walker said.

Unsheltered homelessness is expected to increase again this year, at a time when affordable housing is limited. OurCalling sees 250 new unsheltered people each month.

“The need far exceeds our available resources every day,” Walker said. “Think about the unsheltered — where can they go for any services? … The Stewpot has filled in a really unique gap.”

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