Tags: ebola | apartments | language | barriers

Forty Tongues Spoken at Ebola Apartments in Dallas

Friday, 10 October 2014 06:55 AM

Before the Centers for Disease Control could find those who came in contact with Thomas Eric Duncan, the first patient to fall ill with Ebola in the U.S., it had to find people who could talk to them.

The Vickery Meadow neighborhood in Dallas, where Duncan arrived from Liberia last month, is home to residents from 80 countries who speak 40 different languages and dialects.

Many are refugees who stay long enough in the tattered neighborhood to get established before hunting for better housing, said R.J. Holt, a minister at nearby Park Cities Baptist Church, which works with other religious institutions to help them. They’re eager to escape deteriorating housing and crime in what was once a haven for affluent singles, Holt said.

“It’s a base to get their feet on the ground and move someplace else,” said Holt. “It’s not a good place, so people are highly motivated to get out.”

Vickery Meadow’s 35-year evolution reflects a broader evolution of the city. Once known mostly as a center for Texas commerce and cowboy affectation, Dallas has become a destination for immigrants, U.S. Census Bureau data show. By 2012, about one in four residents was born outside the U.S. In 1980, when Vickery Meadow was home to young singles who drove BMWs and jogged with Sony cassette players, only 6 percent were.

Dense Dallas

Duncan, who died Oct. 8, came to Texas to join a woman with whom he has a child and who is a member of the city’s Liberian population in the north central Dallas neighborhood.

Surrounded by high rises, retailers such as Neiman Marcus and a nearby Whole Foods, the neighborhood of one- and two-story buildings is in Dallas’s densest area, with about 40,000 people in three square miles (eight square kilometers) of apartments and condos. Their swimming pools and clubhouses are surrounded by fences that sag, some to the ground.

While some owners remain, many are low-income residents in rental units. They’re among the 70,000 to 90,000 refugees the U.S. accepts each year from Iraq, Syria, Nepal, Burma and several countries in Africa.

The meeting of Texas and cultures of other continents creates striking juxtapositions: A local Ethiopian restaurant also serves tacos.

Jewish, Baptist and Catholic institutions provide food and volunteers and as much as $150,000 a month to help pay rent when initial subsidies run out, said Holt, the pastor. In one case, he said, they helped pay for air-conditioner repairs and plumbing for a clubhouse used for English classes and other services.

Landlords’ Reluctance

Landlords are reluctant to spend much on maintenance, Holt said, because they’re “more interested in making money.”

Callie Stephens, 69, a condominium owner who has lived in the neighborhood since 1979, said he has witnessed the change from “yuppie city” to “run-down.”

Stephens said his condo’s value briefly doubled in the early 1980s as demand for housing grew to serve young professionals flocking to the era’s energy boom.

Many who bought at inflated prices and interest rates were hit by a recession and sold at a loss. Investors bought units, which led to change in the nature of residents, Stephens said.

“Vickery Meadow is a third-world city,” he said.

Some residents face a fresh stigma because of the Ebola case, said Jennifer Staubach Gates, a member of the city council whose district includes the neighborhood. She knows of 15 people who were told not to come to work.

For Bhakti Bhandari, 41, Vickery Meadows was an oasis of peace when he arrived four years ago from Nepal, the Himalayan nation riven by a Maoist insurgency and its aftermath.

‘No Going Back’

“There is no going back,” Bhandari said yesterday evening as he tended his garden. A Catholic charity found housing for his family there, and his children have access to U.S. education and he holds a job as a housekeeper at Southern Methodist University.

Then, there are his plants: mustard greens, pumpkins, green beans and okra.

“I like working there, and I like getting the food,” he said.

Habte Retta, a 52-year-old Ethiopian, has owned the Maru Grocery in the same spot for 21 years. Along with food, he sells books, pamphlets and dishware.

He said his store and others serving Africans and nationalities from around the world are a draw to the community, along with access to health care and mass transit.

“This is one of the best places to come if you’re an African moving to the U.S.,” Retta said as he rang up purchases. “Often they don’t have a car so they need easy access to groceries.”

“It’s truly an international atmosphere,” he said. “Where else can you find Ethiopians, Sudanese and Mexicans all talking in their own languages?”



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Before the Centers for Disease Control could find those who came in contact with Thomas Eric Duncan, the first patient to fall ill with Ebola in the U.S., it had to find people who could talk to them. The Vickery Meadow neighborhood in Dallas, where Duncan arrived from...
ebola, apartments, language, barriers
Friday, 10 October 2014 06:55 AM
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