Thursday morning, 5,000 Dallas residents in need of housing assistance showed up at the Jesse Owens Memorial complex early in the morning, hoping to be one of the lucky few to get a coveted spot on a waiting list for housing vouchers. Only 100 vouchers were available.
Some people had camped out since Wednesday night, and the line was at least a mile long. When hundreds of people suddenly sprinted for the doors, at least eight people were injured, and some say they feel lucky not to have been trampled to death:
When, at 6 a.m., officials said it was time to form a line, a frantic rush ensued — the latest sign of people’s desperation for help in tough times. There were no serious injuries, but video footage of the chaos received national attention.
“Once they said we could go on the property, it was a stampede, a circus,” said Adelia Frierson, a 24-year-old single mother applying for the federally funded assistance.
Zachary Thompson, the county’s director of health and human services, said the turnout once again demonstrates the need for the Housing Choice Vouchers, also known as Section 8. By the end of the day, about 5,000 households had applied. [...]
The hard-to-get vouchers pay a portion of the rent based on household income. This was the first time Dallas County had opened its waiting list since 2006, and applicants may have to wait at least two years to actually receive vouchers.
The incident is a sad illustration of lengths people will go to for even the chance of government assistance in such hard times. Health director Thompson acknowledgedthat, “a lot of times people are shocked there are so many people who are low income and need assistance. That’s just the reality of the economy we are living in.”
The crowd ranged from young single mothers with their children to senior citizens with nothing but a small Social Security income. Many applicants had jobs, but barely earn minimum wage.
Authorities have been pointing the finger of blame at one another since facing a mountain of criticism for letting the situation get out of hand and not having a better plan to accommodate the sheer number of voucher applicants.