North Texas Command plans mega social service complex
By: Lt. Colonel Allen Satterlee
Poor, homeless and searching for answers, the single mother dashed inside to get someone to help her. The Uber driver was impatient, forcing her five children (ranging in age from one to seven) to get out of the van in a cold, steady rain. The family’s few possessions were unceremoniously piled onto the parking lot while the children stood bewildered, holding each other, caught between being forced out of the van and waiting for their mother to come back.
It was at this point that my conversation with Captain Maxie DeBlanc stopped mid-sentence as she quickly sized up what was happening. Running out to the children, she began comforting them while giving instructions for staff to come help. Immediately, a half dozen people abandoned what they were doing, hurrying out to the children. Some escorted the children in out of the rain while others gathered armfuls of belongings as the Uber driver drove off. About this time a frantic mother returned to find the van gone, her children and possessions missing. Captain DeBlanc was quickly at her side, explaining what was happening, gently leading her inside to where her children were waiting. Less than five minutes had passed as the Carr P. Collins staff compassionately rendered service that would never be recorded on a statistical sheet.
Carr P. Collins Social Service Center
When it opened in 1986, the Carr P. Collins Center in Dallas, Texas became The Salvation Army’s largest social service center anywhere in the world at 128,000 square feet on seven acres of land. It has held that distinction ever since. Each night it houses 475 people, but in emergency situations that number increases to 600. Besides its size, the center revolutionized how the Army delivered social services by providing a comprehensive, one stop center that met human needs at their most basic levels. Anchored by its Christian message through the Harbor Light Corps, the center continues to provide a wide variety of services, including:
- Domestic Violence residential and non-residential services
- Veteran’s programs including housing, clinical treatment, meals, clothes, bathroom and laundry facilities
- Shelter care for men, women and women with children who are homeless. Services include temporary and transitional housing with supportive services
- Food pantry
- Emergency assistance for rent and utilities as well as other needs
- Financial education
- Substance abuse program structured in several levels to help insure success
As the years have gone by the center has adapted to emerging needs. For example, when it started almost all homelessness was found among single men. But the demographics have changed dramatically with homeless women with children showing a tragic increase as housing issues force many out into the streets. Space has had to be reassigned with the barber shop and storage spaces converted to housing and office space.
The facility has not aged well. After over 40 years of extreme use, it has become a proverbial money pit, costing millions of dollars to maintain over time. Nor is the prospect getting better.
Added to that, the neighborhood has changed dramatically as the center is an island amid sprawling hospital and medical complexes that have developed since it opened. Although Parkland Hospital has partnered with the Army to provide vital medical services to the clientele, they also are growing rapidly and approached the Army about acquiring the desperately needed land.
Explorations have been made by the advisory board to adapt the present building, of perhaps tearing down and building on the same location but the only reasonable solution was to sell the present location and build somewhere else. And as anyone knows who has attempted to relocate social services in a municipal setting, that’s where the fun begins.
A Visionary Donation
Knowing the need, long time advisory board member and prominent businessman Bob Rowling was in the thick of it as the Army explored what it had to do and how it had to do it. Finding a prime site in the booming Stemmons Business Corridor in Dallas, the 21-acre site would provide an incredible opportunity for the Army to not only replace the Carr P. Collins Center but to expand capacity in the number served and the comprehensiveness of that service. So, he bought it with the intention of donating the multi-milliondollar property when all the due diligence could be completed. If the project fell through or there were complications, he could develop it or sell it. But the only thing he had in mind was nailing down the best place for the Army to build and meet the needs of the community.
Before the Army accepted the donation, a long and complicated process began to obtain the necessary zoning and to address related issues. Handling this took two and a half years.
Initially, while the Stemmons Corridor Business Association supported the new complex, the immediate neighbors did not. Blake Fetterman, a planning and development consultant who works with the Army, recalls, “There were several legitimate concerns including security for employees who worked in the same area, the potential for increased crime and loss of property values.” One business in particular mounted a concerted effort to keep the Army out, creating some negative publicity in an effort to sway city officials.
In response to the concerns, the Army agreed to have 24-hour security and to limit its overnight shelter capacity to 600 (with 300 inclement weather beds augmenting that).
But what really put things over the top came from outside of the Army. The mayor of Dallas, Mike Rawlings and strongly supported by Councilmember Omar Narvaez, proposed an enterprise zone in the area where the new facility will be constructed. This gave tax incentives to surrounding businesses for a period of ten years as long as they meet certain conditions. In a highly commercialized area, the empowerment zone being offered melted away most of the objections. As a result, the Army received, with the exception of one, the full support of the planning commission and the unanimous support of the city council.
Expanded Services to Meet Current and Future Need
With a new building in view, a new vision for service was born. Intensive efforts were made to discover what needs were trending upwards, especially among the most disadvantaged in the North Texas Command area. Not only were experts in the various fields consulted, but the people the Army served were asked what they needed to disrupt the cycle of poverty, homelessness and addiction.
In addressing homelessness, it was discovered that many who needed Army services did not avail themselves of it because they didn’t feel safe. In the past, homeless people were housed in large dorms with little privacy or safety. So, in the new design rooms are limited to five individuals.
It was also discovered that many who were reluctant to come into the shelter because they couldn’t bring their pets. In response, in what is undoubtedly the first of its kind, the Army has included a kennel to house up to ten dogs.
With more families being affected by homelessness a huge investment is being made in housing for families. Rather than in dorms, apartments are being designed for various sized families so they can stay together and function as a family unit, a key to long term success and a feeling of stability for children.
Culinary training and other workforce development is being planned. With a warehouse onsite, forklift certification will be available. Dallas College is partnering with the Army to provide an array of vocational training. And the city of Dallas has agreed to make the new center one of its stops on its bus routes allowing people who are placed in jobs to get there and back.
The mental health, medical and dental needs of the clients are being handled through partnerships with local hospital and medical services. This will not only make medical care more accessible but relieve pressure on local emergency rooms that frequently are the only other alternatives for indigent care.
Recovery services for those suffering from addictions will help people move toward self-sufficiency and healthier lifestyles. A wellness center will provide healthy meals, exercise and relaxation that will be enhanced by the spacious campus.
At the center of the complex, not just geographically but philosophically, a beautiful chapel is planned that will house the Harbor Light Corps. Although geared for those housed at the new center, the worship center will be open to all. By placing the chapel in the center, the Army is stating that the spiritual dimension is not an afterthought but at the forefront of meeting the needs of each individual. Christ as the hope of the world and of the individual will continue to be fully and completely proclaimed, not just on Sunday but throughout the week with a variety of worship, education and character-building activities for all ages.
With an estimated 72,000 annually battling poverty, homelessness, and addiction in Dallas County, the new social service center will be a beacon of hope to not only throw out a lifeline but to offer people an opportunity to become firmly established in the lives God intends for them.