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Dallas Public Library Introduces Homeless Community Through New Podcast

The library's latest podcast is a 10-episode conversation with some of the city's unhoused population. Their answers may not be what you expect.
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The Dallas Public Library's latest podcast, "On the Block," aims to provide a voice for the city's homeless population.

Joy and Kevin met at a homeless shelter in Texarkana. Joy is a registered stockbroker and Kevin is a minister who says he intended to go it alone, but “God had decided to bring Joy into my life—we fell in love.”

The couple assessed their strengths and recently hopped a Greyhound bus for Dallas, spending their first night sleeping outside near The Stewpot.

The two recently sat down with Dallas Public Library staffers to talk about their experiences in a new podcast. Library officials hope it will offer insight into the city’s unhoused population.

“There are a lot of preconceived ideas about people who are experiencing homelessness and why they are in that situation,” said library community relations administrator Melissa Dease. “The podcast is a way to share their stories and hopefully increase understanding and empathy.”

Dease said the new podcast is part of the library’s ongoing homeless engagement initiative, which launched in 2013. Hundreds of members of the city’s homeless community use libraries to access computers and the internet, books, and for a place to escape the heat or cold. The library also offers mentorship and personalized assistance programs.

The staff interviewers often have similar conversations on a daily basis through the library’s Coffee and Conversation program at the J. Erik Jonsson Central Library, Dease said. 

“Staff seem to be really taken with how much their own life experiences relate to the people they are interviewing,” she said. “All of the subjects in the podcast were following a path that reached a tipping point similar to what many of us experienced. It’s quite a feeling to realize without the supports or advantages we have, at that tipping point we could have been homeless as well.”

In their episode, Joy and Kevin say their plan is to find work in Dallas and a home to share. In the meantime, they’ve received a crash course in living without their own roof. Both say people warned them that Dallas would be dangerous. “To some extent, that may be true,” Joy says. “But that has not been our experience at all.”

In the brief time they’ve been here, they’ve also picked up on the city’s struggles to address its unhoused population. Joy, who did social service work in Seattle, says she’d put Dallas’ response “somewhere in the middle of the road,” but that there’s also a “clash of the will of the people that are on the ground and the political forces in the city.”

Since it’s inception in 2021, the Dallas R.E.A.L. Time Rapid Rehousing program has helped more than 1,220 people move into homes. Last year, the effort (which includes Housing Forward, Dallas Housing Authority, Dallas County, Mesquite, and Plano) said placements had increased 35 percent in the third quarter. Rapid re-housing is designed to put people and families who don’t need a lot of ongoing supports into homes quickly. But even its proponents say it can be difficult to gain entry into the program.

Dease says that the staff members heading up the podcast would love to do a second season. “We hope that listeners will have a greater awareness of the various circumstances that lead to homelessness and the complexity of navigating services to get help,” she said. “Perhaps by hearing their stories firsthand, it will lift some of the stigma around people experiencing homelessness.”

So far, the Dallas Public Library has released five of 10 planned episodes of “On the Block.” You can listen anywhere you usually find podcasts, or you can start here.

Author

Bethany Erickson

Bethany Erickson

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Bethany Erickson is the senior digital editor for D Magazine. She's written about real estate, education policy, the stock market, and crime throughout her career, and sometimes all at the same time. She hates lima beans and 5 a.m. and takes SAT practice tests for fun.

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