by James Dunn
The last straw came when I witnessed the Hillcrest House van driver chasing Eve through the lobby of the building, spraying Lysol disinfectant on her back. I had been a resident of Hillcrest House since May 5, 2017. During that time, I had seen Eve ostracized and bullied by Hillcrest House residents and paid personnel on a daily basis. When I saw what the van driver, a white man, was doing to Eve, a Black 30 something woman who had been born with AIDS, I could no longer be a silent witness to such horrendous treatment. I had to speak up.
I had seen the personnel of Hillcrest House relentlessly bully Eve just too often, now witnessing the constant mistreatment was causing my body to react physically. Increased heart rate, chest pains, teeth grinding had become my constant companions as I tried to “stay in my own lane.”
Hillcrest House is an apartment building that is part of a program to house previously homeless people surviving and living with AIDS/HIV. The building is operated by the Dallas Housing Authority in conjunction with AIDS Services of Dallas. I did not understand how two organizations that were formed ostensibly to bring a good quality of life to unfortunate people, could stray so badly off mission. As I witnessed more and more the singling out of Eve for special, negative treatment, I wondered if this place even had a mission statement, one of the musts in steering any idea into practical reality. I was positive that if AIDS Services of Dallas did have a mission statement it did not say, “We Shall Bully.”
Hillcrest House, located on the southeast corner of Marsalis Ave. and Colorado Blvd. in North Oak Cliff, is a building that consists of sixty-four small, one-room apartments. Keeping people healthy who have AIDS/HIV requires a healthy diet. Hillcrest House has a basement cafeteria where free breakfast and lunch is available to residents Monday through Friday. In the evenings and on weekends, private schools including Bishop Dunne, Ursuline, St. Marks, Jesuit, Hockaday, and Bishop Lynch come out to serve. Churches that served meals included Church of the Incarnation, Golden Gate, Full Gospel Holy Temple, Kessler Methodist, St. Thomas Aquinas, Lake Point, Cathedral of Hope, and more. These caring people, especially the schools with their emphasis on stopping bullying, had no idea that Hillcrest House was a secret bastion of bullying.
Hillcrest House residents have the option of eating their meals inside the approximately 40 seat cafeteria or taking their meals up to one of the four floors above and eating in their rooms. Every resident in Hillcrest House was able to exercise that option. All but Eve.
As long as I lived at Hillcrest House, Eve never had the option to eat in the building’s cafeteria. She was served daily by one of Hillcrest House’s certified nursing assistants in a small dining area that consisted of two tables. The area in which she was served was in full view of the building’s front doors. Anyone entering could see Eve separated from other residents on a daily basis. Daily she endured this treatment just to acquire life sustenance. On many occasions, when a CNA was on her way to serve Eve, I often heard them refer to the duty as, “feeding the dog.”
I had held my tongue from my move-in date of May 5, 2017, until the Lysol spraying. After the spraying, I could no longer sit by and do nothing. Inertia kills. Inertia was killing me both spiritually and physically. My conscience said to act, my rational self said, “Hello Homelessness.” (Hear bus driver’s reaction to spraying in his own voice by clicking link at the end of this article.)
I asked Eve to come to my room. We had become friends when Eve had seen me frequently reading books in the building’s public areas. Over time, as I made friends in the building, I had discovered that Eve and one other of the building’s 64 residents enjoyed reading. We all exchanged books and discussed them.
After the spraying, I furnished Eve a clean, freshly laundered shirt and a clean pair of jeans. Later, I asked her if I could interview her on camera so that I could document her tragic plight at Hillcrest House. She readily agreed to do so.
During the filming of the six-minute and thirteen second interview, I asked Eve some basic questions about her treatment at Hillcrest House and her life in general. I was shocked to tears when she told me that, even though she had been born with full-blown AIDS, she had never in her life experienced the malicious, degrading treatment that she had received at Hillcrest House. We also briefly discussed the fact that that she had been evicted from the building on a day when the night’s low temperatures had hit the low teens. On that night Eve slept on blankets outside the building. Two homeless people froze to death in Downtown Dallas during this cold January. Other residents provided Eve with blankets that night to keep her from freezing to death.
In the morning, after sleeping all night outside the building, Eve was allowed back inside. Her eviction had been illegal, not sanctioned by a justice of the peace.
The directors of Hillcrest House sought to remedy that by going through a justice of peace. I accompanied Eve to Judge Juan Jasso’s court in February. Judge Jasso made it immediately clear that he did not and would not listen to one word of my defense for Eve. Not one word. Why do African Americans still get a repeat of Jasso’s performance day-after-day every day in cities across the country even fifty one years after the death of Martin Luther King, Jr? The most dangerous place for a African American person is inside a United States courtroom. (See my recently released book 6130 McShann Road, 397 pages, fiction, Amazon.com)
In the courtroom that day were Hillcrest House executives Traswell Livingston, Constance Willis, and Darius Amadi. These people never mentioned the constant bullying that Eve had endured. I had tried to show Jasso the video, he was having none of it. I looked around for a kangaroo to come hopping across the courtroom at any time. Oh, and Eve’s rent? Always paid on time. Eve was evicted for being different. She walked, talked, and looked just a little different from you and me. Was looking at Eve so bad that she needed to be tossed into the streets by AIDS services of Dallas? She was gone from Hillcrest House later on that cold February day. Thrown into the streets. Sad.
I am not a man who has been known for doing nothing. I was born an activist. I joined with other African American students to take over the University of Texas at Austin’s president’s office in my first semester at the school in the fall of 1974. I had been a Democratic Party delegate six times for the Texas state convention, beginning in 1980. I had led 400 people in my Kimball-Area neighborhood to stop the building of architecturally incompatible homes in our beloved Kimball Estates. When I found a Mesquite doctor using Dallas homeless people to spread hundreds of thousands of opioid pills to the streets, I took the problem first to Scott Griggs (who did not respond), and then to channel 8 newsman, Brett Shipp. Ship and I launched an undercover operation that closed both of that doctor’s clinics. (Report aired January 25, 2018. Since Shipp had resigned from television, disgusted with do-nothing politicians, words he had written and spoken were voiced-over by a female reporter. I am the man for whom the doctor takes 22 seconds to write a prescription.) Figuring that Griggs would someday take action on something, I decided to try him one more time.
Between the time that Eve had been illegally evicted and her formal, legal eviction, I sent emails to the City Council office of Scott Griggs, representative of the area. I traveled to city hall and met with Griggs’s assistant, Stephen. During our meeting, we viewed the entire Eve video together. Stephen promised that he would have Scott to call me. I never received a call.
On August 10, 2016, I had lead a group of about 250 homeless people to the first Dallas City Council meeting after their July break. We packed the auditorium wall-to-wall. After the meeting, I was given cards from both Scott Griggs and Phillip Kingston who had asked a Dallas Morning News reporter to pass their cards to me. The reporter said that the duo wanted to meet with me.
Mayor Rollings met with me on September 26, 2016. Even though the meeting did not go well. (The mayor booted prominent downtown real estate promoter Tanya Ragan and well-known African American activist Thomas Muhammad from the meeting.) We did meet for an hour. Even though I sent him numerous emails, Scott Griggs never found the time to meet with me, return a phone call or answer an email. He did send me a Facebook friend request around election time 2017. He still refused to answer me himself, and not through some Facebook bot, after I had emailed him the Eve video and a note of explanation about the video’s contents.
Scott Griggs lives just two minutes from Hillcrest House. The councilman never once actually came by or called to investigate atrocities occurring in a building in his own district and partially controlled by Dallas Housing Authority.
From the time that I moved into the building I witnessed horrors performed by staff toward certain residents. I became the victim of overt bullying just days after I moved in. (See letter I sent to AIDS services of Dallas CEO and others titled “Overt Bullying at Hillcrest House” at the end of this article.)
After Eve was gone, bullying my best friend in the building, PC, and me started immediately. (Listen to recording of cafeteria lady explaining denying me a meal at end of this article.) Even though Eve had been booted from the building in February, she continued to live on the street, outside the gates of Hillcrest House. One sunny, March day, I was texting Tanya Ragan back and forth about Eve’s plight. I told her that I could not find Eve. I had been giving Eve meals out of a large stash of food brought to me by one of my best friends, who weekly bought food to me much faster than I could eat it. My refrigerator and cupboards were always stuffed. Tanya, always concerned about the homeless in general and Eve in particular, urged me to go find Eve and make sure that she receive a good, nourishing meal.
The very same Hillcrest House employee who had bullied me in June, soon after I had moved into Hillcrest House, began yelling out of his fourth-floor window. He expressed his anger that I was feeding a now-homeless woman. When I returned to the inside of the building, he followed me around, holding his phone over my head shouting, “Yeah I’m filming, yeah, I’m filming!” Truly frightened, I dialed 911. I would dial 911 three times before Dallas police arrived.
When the Dallas police arrived, three men in separate cars, they yelled. At me. They were concerned that feeding this African American woman, who had been born with full-blown AIDS, would “dirty” the front of the building. Recordings of this shameless act by the Dallas police are a still available to anyone who exercises the open records act. These men who say that they are here “to protect and serve,” were apparently more interested in the landscape than a frightened, bullied man in a wheelchair (me) and a homeless, hungry African American woman.
The next day, I was hand-delivered a letter informing me that my lease would not be renewed. My lease would expire on May 5, 2018. I was back out on the street. Evil had won.
The last week that I lived at Hillcrest House, in May 2018, building manager, Constance Willis, wrote four frivolous “write ups” addressing purportedly aberrant behavior by me. Some residents receive write ups for rule breaking weekly or daily. I had received no write ups in the previous 12 months that I lived at Hillcrest House. Willis had quadrupled down on bullying me. I still have the write ups.
When we witness bullying we are often urged to say something. See something, say something. I did. I said something to our city councilman. A councilman who had publically wanted to meet with me, but never would. Is the public Scott Griggs the same as the private Scott Griggs? Or is he just one that makes grand pronouncements for the cameras only to do nothing when the reporters are gone. Mr. DeMille, Scott’s always ready.
My best friend in the building was evicted after me. PC, is a large man, subject to severe seizures, the van driver began refusing to take him to Parkland for his doctor’s appointments. When he did not submit quarterly paper work to the Hillcrest house nurse, he had been given an eviction notice. When he explained that he could not get a quarterly health update from Parkland because the van driver at Hillcrest House would not take him to his appointments, he was met with eviction. He had lived three months without AIDS medication or seizure medication when he was thrown out into the street. Three African Americans out. No whites.
Recently, Griggs spent city council time leading the council to vote 10 to 4 to request the Trinity Forest organization to give the city $7.1 million to pay for repairs to the unusable jogging track on the second Calatrava Bridge. He acknowledged that voting for such was just a symbolic victory and there was nothing that the council could actually do to compel the group to actually pony up a red cent. The vote and protest was just an act of grandstanding. I am one person tired of the grandstanding by elected officials. Like Brett Shipp lamented to me so often while we worked undercover from July 2017 until that September, where’s the actual follow through to the grand standing?
Scott Griggs for mayor? Yeah, right. This emperor has no clothes.
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