The Intermittent Volunteer’s Weblog

Befriending People in Dallas Who Are Homeless

Wrestling and Other Conversations May 31, 2008

Saturday, 5/31/08

Last night after the evening meal at the Bridge, I left the dining hall and was wandering around the campus when a couple of guys said hi, and I stopped to talk, sitting down beside them on a low concrete wall by the pavilion.

One man, Cullen, who seems very well-educated, has entered a work-to-housing program at the Bridge.  His friend, Joe, had spent the day putting advertising flyers on houses for $7 an hour.  Joe grew up in a carnival family and said he has worked at the State Fair of Texas since he was a child.  He had seen the football stadium at SMU for the first time that day and couldn’t get over how big and impressive it was.

We sat there talking, with the heat of the day dissipating and a nice breeze cooling things off.  Behind us, the large garage doors of the pavilion were open and the mega ceiling fans whirling.  Though it was still daylight at 8 PM, people were already settling into their cots inside the building for the night, because many of them start off for work at 6 AM or so.  

We were trying to identify a bird that flew onto the roof of the Bridge, and Joe began to talk about how much he liked Blue Jays and how they are sign of good luck.  He said he knows he’s in a quiet, peaceful neighborhood when he sees a Blue Jay, and he’d seen one that day while he was passing out flyers.  

I found out Joe is a celebrity buff.  He once asked a Channel 11 reporter for her autograph, and, of all movie stars, would most like to meet Bruce Willis.  Cullen and I talked about how we couldn’t believe that, at his age, Sly Stallone still did his own stunts in the last Rambo.  “Arthritis, and still running through the woods!” he said.

But Joe was most excited when he was telling us how, years ago, he had met several members of a prominent, high-profile wrestling family and what a thrill this was for him.  He was recounting the various things that had happened to that family in the interim.  Joe’s enthusiasm for everything, from Blue Jays to football stadiums to wrestlers, is contagious, and I found myself mesmerized listening to him, because of the joy which illuminates him when he talks.

Suddenly a woman appeared, standing before us.  “Remember a certain child who was always at those wrestling matches on TV and was wearing a shirt with a flower on it?  That child was me!  I am the cousin [of that wrestling family]!”  “What???  NO WAY!!!” Joe said, and jumped to his feet to hug her.

The woman’s sister came to stand beside her, adding, “And I was usually up in the stands, ‘cause I was too young for a long time to be in the ring.”  One thing led to another and pretty soon they were waxing nostalgic about the glory days of the Sportatorium on Industrial Boulevard, where these women had spent much of their youth — how it had been a significant historical landmark until it burned down, and whether that was arson — and the importance of being able to ‘whup people’s asses.’

On a personal note, as a child, I only ever got ‘whupped’ for cussing.  A foul mouth was pretty much second nature to me, and, since my parents weren’t fond of cursing, they sometimes got fed up with mine and expressed their disapproval through generally mild forms of corporal punishment (and allow me to inform you, it did no good.)  Other than feeling a natural affinity for ‘bad words’, however, I was a sickening sort of Buddhist-leaning, Sunday-school-attending, Presbyterian goody-goody who pontificated to my friends with statements like, “Don’t smush that ant!  Ants are our friends!”

But these women had grown up doing a considerable amount of ass-whupping themselves — from about the age of eleven, in the wrestling ring with their cousins, the pro wrestlers.  They demonstrated to us how they’d stand in the ring gesturing and shouting, “Bring it on!!!”

When Joe found out who they were, it was as though the actresses from the new Sex and the City movie (yes, we’d discussed them, too) had walked onto the Bridge campus.  There was a lot of ‘You’re kidding!’, more congratulatory hugging and a celebration right there on the sidewalk that was somewhere between a family reunion and a red-carpet event.

I ventured that I had been to the Sportatorium only once, for a wrestling match in the ‘70’s with a boyfriend from overseas who idolized American wrestlers.  When I expressed the opinion that night to my boyfriend that some of the ring action looked like it might be fake, he got so upset that he threw a full cup of Coke straight up in the air and showered us and everyone around us with ice and soda, which got stickier and sticker as it dried and as the night wore on.  

So it was with hesitation that, after ten minutes or so of listening to my new friends at the Bridge reminisce about this or that particular wrestling match from the glory days and not wanting to offend anybody’s sensibilities, I gingerly asked them if they thought any of the drama in the ring was planned, after someone gave me the opening, “Boy, wrestling has sure changed a lot since then.”  But the question didn’t offend anyone, and they said, sure, a lot of it was rehearsed, but still unexpected things often happened.  So there you have it, folks…the truth from the source.



Harmony May 29, 2008

Filed under: Christianity,healing,inspiration,peace,Vocation — Karen Shafer @ 4:52 pm


      “Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit;  and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord;  and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone.”

                                                                                                                   ~~1 Corinthians 12: 4-6


[taken from Daily Word, published by Unity, May, 2008]


Question May 27, 2008

Filed under: healing,homelessness,hunger,inspiration,Leadership,peace — Karen Shafer @ 8:33 pm


       “Sometimes I’d like to ask God why He allows poverty, famine, and injustice in the world when He could do something about it…  but I’m afraid God might ask me the same question.”


[from the OrphanCare International newsletter of Dillon International, Inc. []]


Dinner at The Bridge May 24, 2008

Saturday, 5/24/08

Last night I helped with the evening food service at the Bridge, the new homeless assistance center in downtown Dallas.  Along with Our Calling Ministries, with whom I’ve worked at the Day Resource Center for the past couple of years, and  teaming up with David Timothy, AKA SoupMan of SoupMobile Mobile Soup Kitchen, we assisted the Stewpot staff in serving dinner to several hundred homeless people.

David served as a sort of ‘maitre d’’ to the homeless guests, helping them find seating, and my job was that of ‘gatekeeper’ at the door, teamed with one of the Downtown Dallas Safety Patrol officers who serve as security at the center, letting people into the dining hall in small groups.  I liked this job, because, each time I opened the door to the long line of people in the courtyard, SoupMan and I were able greet the people coming in face to face. 

There was a steady stream of people through the door from 6 PM until about 7:15, and a trickle of people from 7:15 to 7:30, when the meal ended.  From my perspective, the meal service went like clockwork, very smooth.

I had a few random observations of the evening:

~~  The first five people in the door were in wheel chairs and were missing some part of a lower extremity.  Three more wheel-chair-bound guests came as the evening progressed.

~~  Four women who came to eat were pregnant.

~~  The Safety Patrol officer I was teamed with asked me to request extra food for the pregnant women who came through.  This kind of sensitivity will build good relationships between the keepers of the peace / guardians of the rules at the center and those they are there to protect.

~~  There were three or four women of my age (middle age) that I had not seen before who were dressed as if they were middle class.

~~  A couple of men coming through the line were carrying a portable magnetic chess game and continuing their game as they waited.  “I’ve tried to learn how to play chess,” I told them, “but I just can’t remember how all the different pieces move.”  “Repetition,” one of them told me. “That’s all it takes.”  “I’m pretty sure my brain just doesn’t work that way,” I said to him, “My five-year-old granddaughter can beat me.”  Good laugh, but sadly true.

~~  There’s a library at the Bridge.  Many people who came through the line were so involved in reading a book that they looked up only to say hello as they entered the dining hall and waited in line.

~~  One of my young friends who is pregnant — I’ll call her Deanna — has already enrolled in the job training program at the center and is very excited about learning to do housekeeping.  I have been seeing her on the street for a couple of years.

~~  My ‘street son,’ Tim, who has no family and has been on the street for ten years, has been employed for two months at a local downtown ministry near the Stewpot and is within a month of earning his way into an apartment.  Please send him your thoughts and prayers.  He’s making an heroic effort to get his life together and to help others to do the same.  In the past, he has sometimes protected Deanna when she was on her own on the street.

~~  Inside the Welcome Center, two friendly volunteers were answering questions for homeless guests and signing up volunteers.  In offices beside the lounge, workers were still conducting interviews with homeless individuals at the time I was leaving, about 8 PM.

~~  There were two medical transports from the main building during time I was there, people being taken from the Welcome Center on stretchers.

~~  The atmosphere appears to be non-threatening and welcoming throughout the campus, but the rules of civil behavior are strictly followed.  That’s exactly the balance that is needed.

~~  A comment I heard:  “It’s obvious that they care about us.  They built these buildings [The Bridge.]”

~~  Another:  “Inside these walls you can learn to solve your problems and get your life together.”

It’s a promising start, and it was a joy to see my homeless friends in a safe, clean, beautiful environment.





The Bridge Is Open! May 22, 2008


This past Tuesday, May 20 was a momentous day for Dallas and its homeless citizens.  A new, $23 million, state-of-the-art homeless assistance center, The Bridge, opened in downtown.  Here is a letter from David Timothy of SoupMobile describing the ribbon-cutting ceremony and the facility.


Subject: Report from the SoupMan to SoupMobile Advisory Board

Date: May 21, 2008 3:58 PM


Dear Advisory Board Members:

The following information is an update of recent changes in the homeless situation in the City of Dallas.

On Tuesday May 20th, the new homeless assistance center, The Bridge opened for business. The Ribbon Cutting Ceremony was held in the main courtyard of the new center. In attendance were the Mayor Tom Leppert; the Dallas City Council; Mike Rawlings (The Homeless Czar); various dignitaries; guests and about 150 homeless people and five members of the staff/board of the SoupMobile.

The Bridge is a multipurpose facility designed to provide services to the homeless ranging from basic medical care; job training; hair cutting services; restrooms; showers; food and shelter. However it is not a true shelter in the way we would normally think. Inside the main building are approximately 100 beds that are actually small cubicles that have a bed, locker, drawers and chair. These 100 beds are called transitional beds. They are NOT for long term use. They are to be used for patients coming out of Parkland Hospital; clients transitioning into drug or alcohol rehab programs; and other clients which are transitioning into permanent housing.

[Blogger’s Note:  There is even a kennel for pets of the homeless, and a playground and secured area for women and children.  KS]

In addition to the 100 transitional beds the facility has an open aired building that will house up to 300 homeless people per night who will sleep on cots. These cots are not permanent housing. Each night as the homeless enter the facility they can sign up for a cot. If more than 300 people want cots, then they will do a lottery to see who gets a cot for the evening.

The new facility is a big step up in services for the homeless. However it is not the ‘cure all’ for the homeless problem in Dallas. Its estimated that there are more than 10,000 homeless men and women in the Dallas area. Clearly The Bridge will only be able to serve a portion of these men and women. Even with The Bridge online, there will still be a massive need for additional homeless services.

… I will be personally volunteering from time to time at The Bridge. I am starting by volunteering this Friday evening to help them serve the evening meal in their cafeteria….they are in need of help and [we want] to keep our finger in the pie as we look to possibly partner up with The Bridge at some future date.

May the Lord bless you all. 

David Timothy, a.k.a. The SoupMan


3017 Commerce St.

Dallas, Texas 75226


Blogger’s Note:

May I add that I am very optimistic about the impact this center will have on the lives of our homeless friends.  I am particularly encouraged by an article I read in the Dallas Observer, May 8, 2008.  It’s well worth reading.  Here’s the link:

A non-punitive, non-criminalizing approach is the most workable and effective when approaching the problem of homelessness, in my opinion, and statistics bear this out.  I am heartened to see that this appears to be the philosophy which will implemented ‘top down’ at the Bridge.

True, there are concerns from the homeless advocacy community:  for example, as it appears the Pavilion will fill up quickly and people will be turned away at night as there are not enough temporary beds to provide shelter for everyone who wants it, there is concern that this will lead to ‘zero-tolerance’ from the city on the streets, arresting those who are still sleeping outdoors and once again filling the jail with homeless people.  However, it looks as though those who don’t have a bed will still be able to stay on the Bridge campus.

Nonetheless, as I sat and listened to the speeches at the ribbon-cutting, and, later, as I watched the new lounge fill up with hot, exhausted, drained, thirsty homeless individuals seeking refuge in the beauty, cleanliness, and icy cool air-conditioning of the center, I felt that the weight of the world was off my shoulders and that, for now, nothing could dim my optimism about this giant leap forward for Dallas.  The entire community has pulled together to offer the best to those who have nothing, and I call that a great day.



A Middle-Class Homeless Crisis in Dallas? May 21, 2008

This blog received a comment on the post entitled “Broken” from a friend in my church, Church of the Incarnation (Episcopal) that I hope you’ll go back and check out (May 15, 2008.  Click on ‘Comments’ at the bottom of the post.)  

May I just say…I love my church, not only because it is a beautiful, old building with lovely, reverential services, but because of people like English, who care enough to ask the hard questions and to show up on Christmas Eve at the Hyatt Regency Dallas for the SoupMobile’s Christmas Angel Project — and to go to Honduras to build schools, and to New Orleans to rebuild houses, and to fight poverty in Belize, and to mentor in areas of poverty around our very blessed church property, and on and on (it requires an entire book to list all of the outreach that is done out of Church of the Incarnation, thanks to Outreach Director Martha Lang and many others).  My fellow parishioners and our priests put their love on the line constantly all over the place.

Anyway, I hope you’ll read the comments of the “Broken” post where English asked an important question:

“Do we have a middle-class homeless crisis in Dallas?”

and read the response from David Timothy, AKA SoupMan, of SoupMobile Mobile Soup Kitchen.

I would love to know what readers think.  What is your experience and what are your observations?



Authority May 19, 2008

Filed under: inspiration,Leadership — Karen Shafer @ 9:33 pm

       “True authority does not issue edicts to suppress men’s personal judgment or render its action unnecessary, but it is like the authority of a parent, which invigorates and encourages, even while it restrains and guides the growth of our own individuality.”

                                                                                                                   ~~Charles Gore



Broken May 15, 2008

Journal Archives

Thursday, 12/22/05

I was out with the mobile soup kitchen on a feeding run tonight, and unlike most nights, the vibe was strained on the truck.  For starters, I’d arisen from my sick bed to show up for the commitment I’d previously made, realizing that in the past few weeks I’ve been writing about the homeless, thinking about them, talking about them a great deal… but that I needed to see them, touch them, talk to them — that being with them is what I love, not doing politics about them.

I felt ill on the run, alternately sweating and freezing, thinking I might pass out.  There’s nowhere to sit on the truck, and the floor was slimy with spilled soup, so we volunteers slipped and slid around as it bumped along through the downtown streets.  One of the regular volunteers was tired, which made her very sharp-edged.  When she was rude to the rest of us one too many times,  I came within an ace of walking away and hitching a ride back to my car.  It was an unusually wretched start and middle to the run, and I was determined to just endure.

Then I began talking with Joe, a homeless man we picked up at the first stop to ride with us and help us feed. Wanting to get the real lowdown, I was asking him how things were out there.  It was a grim, unflattering and unsympathetic portrait of who was out on the street and what was going on.

As the van clattered and lurched along, between bouts of bending over to slop scalding soup into paper cups, as I sweated and froze and felt I’d faint, as the grouchy volunteer barked irritable orders at everyone, as an uncharacteristically-rowdy, block-long line of ragged people milled and pushed and shoved and shouted outside the truck in front of the Day Resource Center, I thought to myself, “Now, exactly why am I doing this?”

Joe offered to do the ladling, and I stepped away to rest my back.  He was so kind to notice I was tired.  Then the director asked me to come outside the truck and ‘work on the ground,’ which I love, so it was a relief to get outside and hand people food and talk to them a little.  “How are you?  How’s it going?”  “God bless you all for being out here!” they’d say, or  “I’m OK, but I could sure use some work.”  “Joseph, I’ll pray for you.”  “Oh, thank you.”  A man getting mock angry when I let a woman be served ahead of him.  The woman giving me a hug, and then another.  “Why do the women get to go first?” a man asks.  “Does it make you men feel like chopped liver?” I joke with him.  “You call them ladies, but you call us men.”  “OK, we’ll call you gentlemen from now on!”

I was starting to loosen up, to remember, to feel what this was about.

And then I began to look into their faces, one by one, as they stepped up in line to receive their soup, sandwich, cookie and banana.  A young woman with cerebral palsy, looking brave and dignified, not wanting to meet my eyes.  A man who could barely stand, trying to signal something as he swayed away, almost as if he were crossing himself.  A woman deathly pale with a yellowish pallor to her skin and a cap pulled down that barely covered the absence of hair.  People with skin leathered and hands swollen from the cold.  Someone blind.  Someone on crutches.  So many of them thanking us, blessing us, wishing us Merry Christmas.  Loving us for loving them.  Dark faces, pale faces, every kind of face in the world.

Broken faces.  Broken, as we all are.

Beauty.  Real beauty. 

We left, and as we rumbled back toward our starting point, I thought, “This is why I do it.  To be near them.”

But, still, why?  What is the Grace that’s near them, that spills over onto me, that makes me want to be out in the cold, ladling soup, giving away sandwiches?  When I try to pin down a reason, it slides away, like mine and Joe’s tennis shoes on the soupy metal floor of the catering truck.

And then, sitting here in Barnes and Noble, drinking my hot cocoa, feeling less at odds and less resentful of the middle-class Dallas culture than I did in my first entries into this journal a year ago — accepting it, even, and my place in it, and the fact that I drive a nice car while many people have no homes…  Remembering that driving here, I drove all the way down Beverly Drive looking at the stupendous displays of Christmas lights and didn’t need to turn away in frustration, accepting that that kind of wealth is part of life, too — just observing, not judging…  

Anyway, I got it, sitting here, remembering the beauty, the desperation, the softness, the fear, the humanity, the love, the blankness, the greed, the need — in those broken faces in the crush of people outside the Day Resource Center — giving to them out of my own brokenness, as they gave to me.  I got it…

The beauty, the grace is in the brokenness.

But it makes no sense!  And when I once read that Henri Nouwen said it, I thought, well, my great hero is just wrong on this one.  Beauty in healing?  in unconditional love?  in service?  Sure.  But in brokenness?  

The only connection I can make is with Christ’s broken body on the cross.  But wasn’t the beauty in the resurrection?  The brokenness of Christ’s body I find devastating!  Do we have to be broken first in order to be healed?  Is it because only through brokenness comes the possibility of Grace?

The Spirit of Love is out there on the street, for sure — in the people themselves — surrounding them, hovering near them.  I feel the intensity of Christ’s Love there, have always felt it.

It a mystery, a magnificent mystery.

And our street people show it to me.  Every time.



Liturgy and Action May 12, 2008

Filed under: Christianity,homelessness,hunger,inspiration,Leadership — Karen Shafer @ 6:17 pm


       “Do you wish to honor the Body of Christ?  Then do not allow it to be scorned in its members, in the poor, who have nothing to clothe themselves with.  Do not honor him in church with silk and then neglect him outside when he is cold and naked….  

       What does Christ gain from a sacrificial table full of golden vessels when he then dies of hunger in the persons of the poor?”

                                                                                       ~~St. John Chrysostom, Fourth Century


Thanks for the quote to Father Bob Johnston, Church of the Incarnation (Episcopal) newsletter, The Angelus.


Wouldn’t It Be Loverly? May 6, 2008

Filed under: homelessness,hunger,inspiration,peace — Karen Shafer @ 5:59 pm


Wouldn’t It Be Loverly?


All I want is a room somewhere, 

Far away from the cold night air.

With one enormous chair, 

Aow, wouldn’t it be loverly? 


Lots of choc’lates for me to eat, 

Lots of coal makin’ lots of ‘eat.

Warm face, warm ‘ands, warm feet,

Aow, wouldn’t it be loverly? 


Aow, so loverly sittin’ abso-bloomin’-lutely still. 

I would never budge ’till spring 

Crept over me windowsill. 


Someone’s ‘ead restin’ on my knee, 

Warm an’ tender as ‘e can be. ‘ho takes good care of me, 

Aow, wouldn’t it be loverly?


Loverly, loverly, loverly, loverly.


A Song From the Musical: My Fair Lady                                                                                                        Lyrics by Alan Jay Lerner.  Music by Frederick Loewe.                                                                              

Based on Pygmalian by George Bernard Shaw.                                                                                                     Musical in 2 Acts by Alan Jay Lerner.                                                                                                

Original Broadway production opened in 1956, running for 2,717 performances.                                          Original West End production opened in 1958, running for 2,281 performances.

Special thanks to my daughter, Rose, for singing this recently and reminding me how much I love it.  KS


Services Provided by The Bridge May 3, 2008

Dear Readers,

Here’s a link to the website of a group of people who have generously allowed me to work with them on Friday nights at the Day Resource Center for the last couple of years while they serve dinner and give away clothing.  They provided me with a way to give away the clothing I like collecting, which opportunity I lost when the homeless camps were razed by the city in 2005.

The post gives a list of the services to be provided by the new homeless assistance center, The Bridge, when it opens in May.




Suffering and Compassion May 1, 2008

Suffering and Compassion

       “Compassion is a mind that removes the suffering that is present in the other…We can nurture the unconditional love that does not expect anything in return and therefore does not lead to anxiety and sorrow…. The essence of love and compassion is understanding, the ability to recognize the…suffering of others, to put ourselves ‘inside the skin’ of the other.  We ‘go inside’… and witness for ourselves their suffering….  Shallow observation as an outsider is not enough to see their suffering.  We must become one with the object of our observation.  When we are in contact with another’s suffering, a feeling of compassion is born in us.  Compassion means, literally, ‘to suffer with.’”

       “We have to find ways to nourish and express our compassion.  When we come into contact with the other person, our thoughts and actions should express our mind of compassion, even if that person says and does things that are not easy to accept.  We practice in this way until we see clearly that our love is not contingent upon the other person being lovable.”

                                                                                     ~~Thich Nhat Hanh, Peace Is Every Step  (81-83)