In South Dallas, Local Leaders are Driving Big Changes
Dallas is known for big business, big houses, big hair and a big can-do spirit. Perhaps lesser known is its big, rapidly growing poverty rate – the third highest among the nation’s largest cities. At a time when national leaders seem polarized and paralyzed, local leaders are taking action by bringing residents, churches, schools, social service organizations and others together to work toward practical, innovation solutions.
The Frazier neighborhood in South Dallas is one of the city’s poorest and most blighted. While significant poverty exists in other parts of the city, in Frazier it is more concentrated, more ingrained and more isolated from resources than most anywhere else. While the neighborhood is just 2.8 miles from thriving downtown Dallas, more than 65 percent of its adults are unemployed, and 40 percent have served jail or prison time. Of young adults ages 18-24, more than a third dropped out of high school, paving the way for another generation of struggle and marginalization.
There is no silver bullet to solve the complex issues in a neighborhood like Frazier. It will take a multi-layered approach that addresses housing, education, health, jobs and public safety. Thanks to unprecedented collaboration, the Frazier neighborhood is seeing more wins than it has in decades.
One of these wins is Hatcher Station Village, designed as a hub for economic development. Using the “community quarterback” model, our team at nonprofit Frazier Revitalization coordinated efforts by the city of Dallas, banks, Dallas’ public hospital and local philanthropists to turn a motel and nightclub, both centers for drugs and prostitution, into a new $19.8 million health clinic. Situated on a public transit line, the new Parkland Clinic brings affordable healthcare to residents of Frazier and other South Dallas neighborhoods. The 44,378-square-foot facility has been leased to Parkland Hospital for 25 years as a community-oriented primary care clinic, which opened May 2015. Now we are coordinating neighborhood-driven efforts for additional phases of Hatcher Station Village that may include a legal aid clinic, emerging entrepreneurs and space for community gatherings.
Another critical need in the neighborhood is addressing the economic barriers created by a past criminal record. Four out of 10 adults here have served time, and a considerable number of offenses are nonviolent, including unpaid traffic violations or minor drug possession. Many residents don’t have the money, resources or understanding of the legal system to deal with these situations. This month we are launching a partnership with The University of North Texas at Dallas, Legal Aid of Northwest Texas and the Dallas County Public Defender’s Office, who will bring legal expertise and services to help level these barriers to employment and a steady income.
In a neighborhood like Frazier, it is essential we also focus on the needs of the next generation. School-age children are growing up knowing crime, addiction, hunger and violence as the norm. That kind of chronic childhood stress has significant, negative effects on both social-emotional health and academic performance. As the Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) Study has shown, as the number of stressful factors in a child’s life increases, so does the likelihood of future depression, substance abuse, violence, financial distress and even a shortened lifespan. Disadvantaged children also are more likely to be behind in school. For example, research shows they have an average 6,000-hour learning gap by 6th grade compared to their more affluent peers.
To break this cycle in the Frazier neighborhood, we are intervening both in and out of school. We have deployed mentors to the classrooms and hallways of neighborhood schools, who help principals and teachers address behavior problems and connect with parents when intervention is needed. We have also formed a network of 30+ organizations to put resources, quality-improvement programs and trauma-based approaches into the hands of neighborhood afterschool providers. Out-of-school time accounts for 80 percent of a child’s waking hours, so the neighborhood is collaborating to give kids the kinds of experiential afterschool opportunities that national studies have shown to increase academic, social and emotional skills.
With the help of Southern Methodist University’s Center on Research and Evaluation (CORE), we are tracking school attendance, discipline, grades and state test performance to validate and measure the impact of these programs, which are now being expanded even beyond Frazier to all of the South Dallas/Fair Park area. To evaluate the effect of our broader work in the neighborhood, CORE is also tracking a wide range of community indicators such as population, demographics, income, housing, employment, economic development, crime and educational attainment.
Our goal is to show that local leaders can and are creating actual change and momentum. By uniting the entities that typically work side-by-side, but not together, under a coordinated vision and plan, this urban neighborhood is seeing life-changing impact for its residents – and for the long-term health of the community.
By Dorothy Hopkins, President & CEO of Frazier Revitalization, Inc.