DALLAS (NewsNation Now) — Dallas has the highest homeless population of any city in the entire south. Every night about 10,000 people don’t have a place to lay their heads and the COVID-19 pandemic has caused an even greater shortage of shelter beds.
Churches and convention centers aren’t opening to keep the virus at bay, and now as the winter months approach, the cold is making harder on the homeless community.
Below the hustle and bustle of the I-35 freeway in Dallas, you’ll find 52-year-old Parrish. He calls the bridge on Riverfront home. In the streets, he’s known as “Nubs” because he has no fingers or toes.
A white Christmas in years past left him frostbitten and amputated.
It is a loss he’s still getting used to.
“I didn’t wake up with frostbite, it just got on me. And I swore to God I had said my last rites,” Nubs said.
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He said he drinks beer to numb his pain.
“It helps with the phantom pains. It feels like my fingers are curling up around each other … and yet I look down and see no fingers,” Nubs said.
Sadly, he’s not alone. He’s one of about 10,000 who are homeless on the streets of Dallas. Pre-pandemic there were about 2,400 shelter beds across the city, but now that number has dwindled to 2,000.
People like Nubs are now vying for refuge as it grows colder.
David Coe works with OurCalling, a nonprofit that ministers to and supports Dallas’ most needy. He hits the road every morning to connect with them through kindness and he says he’s no stranger to what some of these people are going through.
“I had walked away from a 17-year marriage, I had left kids behind because of a drug addiction and alcoholism, so I can relate to these guys,” Coe said.
OurCalling partnered with the city of Dallas to offer 280 hotel rooms to provide warmth and protection from COVID-19.
“I loved that hotel room,” Nubs said. “Nice clean soft bed, it was warm, I took me a nice hot bath. And watched TV. Oh yes.”
It was the first night this year he slept indoors. Founder and CEO of OurCalling Pastor Wayne Walker said homelessness is a disconnection.
“You’re disconnected from family, friends, mental health care, medical care, housing, jobs, income,” Pastor Walker said.
The pastor began hanging with the homeless 20 years ago. He said the issue is cyclical, often compounded with trauma. The stereotypical idea is that many are on the streets because they are lazy or have chosen the lifestyle.
“Every person on the street, if given the opportunity, would choose to sleep in your house and your bed. It’s freezing outside this time of year. And they would choose to live anywhere but where they are,” Walker said.
Walker’s team provides them a warm bed, hot meal, shower, and medical care that now includes COVID-19 testing.
“We may not see the success on this side, but at some point in the future, we will. We’ll see the hope that we talk about and the hope that we speak of,” Walker said.