While Pan-African Connection has been approved by Dallas to re-open its community-driven free pantry, cities across Texas have taken an increasingly antagonistic stance against organizations providing services to houseless neighbors. Despite the decision being reversed, public assistance offered by mutual aid groups remains under a growing threat of disruption in Texas. 

Pan-African Connection has been cleared of wrongdoing by the City of Dallas after Code Enforcement claimed the establishment needed to remove its community fridge and free pantry to comply with City Ordinance.

This news came about a week after July 19, when Pan-African Connection temporarily shut down its fridge after an encounter with Code Enforcement left them unsure of the legality of offering food to the houseless and impoverished.

 “We never received anything in writing,” Akwete Tyehimba, owner of Pan-African Connection says. “They were doing an inspection of the shopping center because it’s coming under new management. So they were inspecting everybody’s occupancy permits and making sure we were doing what we were supposed to be doing. But then we stepped outside and Code and Homeless Solutions and a few Dallas police officers with them were here[…] and they said ‘you’re gonna have to take this table down.’”

Local fixture Pan-African Connection provides a community fridge and food pantry, running on food donations from locals to offer food options to houseless and impoverished community members. Photo Credit: Sam Judy

Code Enforcement explained that while free food may be given to the homeless, making the food available 24 hours a day without a set schedule is illegal. This was later proven to be false, as this seems to only apply to events serving 75 people or more and refers to cooked meals, not dry goods or raw ingredients. 

After a week without receiving the written notice that Code Enforcement claimed it would provide, PAC made an Instagram post announcing the unfortunate development. The post went viral, sparking community outrage. Soon after, the City of Dallas contacted the establishment to set a meeting, at which they clarified that PAC is not breaking any laws and that the pantry may remain operational. However, the city offered this with mixed support from Code Enforcement and Homeless Solutions.

“[Homeless Solutions] was trying to say that we are attracting homeless people to the area and enabling them and that they won’t seek the necessary services if we help them,” Akwete says. “I don’t mind helping, but I should have some information I can share with people seeking help […] because this is not a long-term solution. I agree that feeding people is for the short term and that programs should be accessible.”

While the city has promised to not harass PAC as it re-opens the free pantry to the public, tighter ordinance related to homelessness has become increasingly commonplace all over Texas in the last decade. As anti-homeless legislation has overtaken systems in areas like Houston and Austin, accordingly, some areas of Texas have become increasingly antagonistic to both houseless folk and the mutual aid groups that support them. Houston, for instance, has been at odds with the city’s chapter of Food Not Bombs for years, and despite a jury ruling that the city’s homeless ordinance is unconstitutional, the City of Houston claims they will be pursuing violations committed by Food Not Bombs regardless.

Pan-African Connection is a cultural hub of Dallas, offering items ranging from traditional to modern and contemporary. The store also offers an impressive library of Black authored literature providing crucial commentary on subjects relating to and expressing the Black experience in America. Photo credit: Sam Judy

As well as providing a community fridge and pantry – which is in need of donations in its re-establishment – Pan-African Connection is a bookstore, market, clothing store, art gallery, and resource center serving residents of Southern Dallas. A distinct community staple and a truly welcoming space, it is passionately run by Akwete Tyehimba and has operated since 1989. The establishment provides both a characteristic warmth and educative luminosity to community members through various channels and mediums.

Dallas, in many ways, is a bastion of sanctuary for the impoverished among major Texan cities, as its ordinance outlining an approach to homelessness is arguably the least antagonistic to the demographic. However, this is attributable to the work of mutual aid groups and religious organizations, showing determination to push back against city ordinance proposals regarded by many as anti-homeless. Without pushback, Dallas would likely take stricter measures to limit assistance to houseless neighbors from within their communities.

In targeting homelessness, cities hurt the working class as well, as some struggling or less fortunate families are dependent on food from community fridges and pantries. These groups often utilize these services more frequently than the houseless, depending on donations from community pantries or other groups like the North Texas Food Bank. 

“There’s not really a lot of homelessness in this area. Really, 50% of the people we service here are Hispanic families who don’t have access to all of the services you or I may have. Certain families don’t have the privilege of SNAP or WIC benefits, so they need a little help. And they’re so grateful. This area is definitely in need.”

Akwete Tyehimba, Owner of Pan-African Connection in Southern Dallas. Photo Credit: Sam Judy

Code Enforcement came amidst the takeover of new management at Glendale Shopping Center and the area has been a growing prospect for economic development. The southern sector has become a hotspot for gentrification in the city, as real estate developers have begun buying off both residential and commercial properties.

Developers hope to present a more sterile vision of the area, and therefore, the community fridge is perceived as attracting the blighted presence of houseless neighbors. As mutual aid groups see food as a human right, this places them at odds with companies hoping to foster middle-class growth and thereby the erasure and displacement of poorer communities.

“It’s a material reality for people that they need food. Mutual aid is very important and in an area like South Dallas, there’s definitely a need for it,” Akwete says. “You may not see a lot of homeless people here, but the poverty is still there. There are a lot of group homes in this area that have a lot of people that don’t get enough food and don’t have as much money. “

Pan-African Connection is within Glendale Shopping Center, a strip mall/plaza that’s been a growing prospect of large-scale development. Photo Credit: Sam Judy

While the community fridge has returned to its rightful place outside PAC as of last Saturday, it is in dire need of donations. Accepting dry foods, refrigerated items, and other necessities, the pantry provides sustenance for both community members experiencing housing insecurity and families struggling to make ends meet.

As well as providing a community fridge, PAC hosts community events, such as a back-to-school drive this coming weekend.

“We have a back-to-school event where we are collecting school supplies and backpacks, preferably clear backpacks,” Akwete says. “It starts at one o’clock on Saturday. It’s free and open to the public. It’s just a fun event and we can always use more donations.”

To donate food to the community pantry, bring refrigerated items, dry foods, and cookable meals such as instant noodles or canned goods to Pan-African Connection at 4466 S Marsalis Ave at any time. Visit at 1 pm this Saturday, August 5, to donate or receive items from Pan-African Connection’s Community Back-To-School Event.