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Protecting city officials from activists at homeless encampments is the right thing to do

Perpetual homeless encampments are bad for the city and those who inhabit them. That is why we think the city’s efforts and strategy to house unsheltered people is a good thing. But not everyone supports these measures.

Earlier this month, Deputy City Manager Jon Fortune shared in a memo the new Homeless Encampment Strategy security plan as a response to city employees encountering resistance from activists and armed individuals at the site of homeless encampment cleanups.

As we reported in July, at least 40 activists blocked city officials from cleaning the site of a homeless encampment under Interstate 45 in South Dallas. Some carried rifles. When we went to the site the following week, we saw at least one man with a long gun. It was jarring to see the activist response — with the implicit threat of violence — to a program that is attempting to get people out of dangerous and unsanitary encampments and onto the path of a more stable life.

City Hall deserves praise for putting together a plan that takes the safety of city workers seriously, even if such a plan should be unnecessary. Code compliance officers and homeless solutions employees should be able to do their vital jobs without harassment or intimidation.

The security plan laid out in Fortune’s memo involves the Dallas city marshals, Dallas Police Department, Code Enforcement and Office of Homeless Solutions. It conceives of different levels of response based on the expected resistance at encampments the city is addressing.

In a first-tier response, city marshal and Dallas police neighborhood policing officers will be on standby. Under this tier, people living in a camp are not being removed from the site at that time. Instead, city officials are cleaning the encampment as a health and hygiene precaution. This level of response assumes that activists are not present.

If city officials believe that activists will protest at the encampment, a tier-two response will be used. In this case, city marshals and neighborhood police officers will be at the location while city officials are either cleaning or closing a site. A police response team will be on standby.

If there is advance knowledge that activists will be carrying firearms and protesting at the location, then the city will engage a tier-three response. Marshals and neighborhood police will be at the location and a police response team will be on standby, with instructions to notify the mayor and council of planned resistance and possible arrests.

Anyone who threatens or intimidates a city worker doing their jobs should be investigated and arrested if necessary. The city of Dallas and nonprofit partners are working tirelessly and often with insufficient resources to humanely assist people living in encampments.

The Dallas rehousing initiative has housed 1,176 people since September, with plans to house 2,700 individuals. Those are real gains in the fight against homelessness.

Much more remains to be done. But it can only be done effectively if the people doing the work on the ground are safe and secure. Thankfully, City Hall is stepping up to make sure they can.

We welcome your thoughts in a letter to the editor. See the guidelines and submit your letter here.

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