Monday, June 30, 2008
Here is the link for a Dallas Morning News article of Saturday, 6/28/08. The article states that Metro Dallas Homeless Alliance, which runs the Bridge, has terminated its contract with PATH Partners, the contractor hired to offer social services at the facility.
Since it opened May 20, the Bridge has been sleeping 700 to 800 per night; it was designed to sleep 300. According to Mike Faenza, president and CEO of MDHA, “We have a tidal wave, and we want to succeed. The numbers of people, and their needs, and the risk, were so high. I felt like we could not have that second layer in between MDHA and these people, because we had to move very fast. Managing a contract was too cumbersome given what the situation was.”
Some people may see this as a setback for the Bridge, and I’m surely no expert on the inner workings thereof. But I do want to offer some observations from my limited time spent there volunteering in the feeding program, run by the Stewpot, most Friday nights since the center opened.
~~As I entered the Bridge campus last Friday night, my friend, J., walked up to tell me happily that he i employed full-time within the Bridge now, and he was clear-headed as I’ve seen him in months.
~~My friend, Chris, was very sunburned Friday night from having worked all day. When I asked if he’d wear sunscreen if I brought it, he said yes, but he seemed proud that he had gotten his bright red coloring from being employed.
~~Many residents were wearing blue badges saying “Resident.” I learned from the Stewpot employees that the 100 beds for individuals enrolled in the Work-Live Housing (seeking employment) and/or Interim Housing (needing supportive services) have been/are being filled. People have to meet qualifications and have goals for themselves to be in these programs.
~~As I handed a woman, D., her plate in the food line, her arm was weak; she told me she’d had a stroke that week. She’d just been released from Baylor, where she had been getting the medical care she needed.
~~A man in the food line a couple of weeks ago was so well-dressed he could have been an executive. When I complimented him, he was pleased to tell me he was on his way to work.
~~After the Pavilion cots are filled (300), others wishing shelter from the streets are allowed to sleep in the courtyard of the Bridge campus. This is currently, as stated above, an additional 400 to 500 people. As I was leaving the campus around 7:45 PM Friday, these individuals were retrieving from storage nice, thick, single-size black mats, which prevent them from having to sleep directly on the concrete or grass.
~~Most importantly, when you talk to homeless individuals themselves, they are positive about what is going on there and feel good about the services and opportunities for growth that are being provided (and this is not always the case, believe me!)
The most important thing from my perspective is that things seem to be changing for the better among the homeless, both in individual lives and from an overall perspective. I attribute this to many things, but mostly to the fact that the Bridge has lived up to its promise to have a welcoming, non-threatening approach to our homeless neighbors. There was a fear (and I was one that expressed it) that many among the homeless population would not choose the shelter over homelessness. If the Bridge’s and the city’s approach had been the traditional one of booting people back onto the street at dawn, then arresting them for being there, and/or of making them ‘clean up’ before they were given services, we would still be experiencing the stagnation and disastrous effects of those policies that we’ve seen in the past.
Here’s a quote from an article in the Dallas Observer of May 8, 2008:
“By federal definition, the chronically homeless are those unaccompanied adults who have a disabling condition (such as substance abuse disorder or a serious mental illness) and have been continuously homeless for a year or more, or have had at least four episodes of homelessness within the past three years… as [Mike] Faenza likes to tell his staff, the more times a person has been in jail, been arrested or beaten up, the more welcome he will be at the center.
“We want this place to be very slow to reject anybody,” Faenza says. “You don’t have to be likable to deserve services. You can be aggravating and annoying and still deserve services….They are not going to act grateful. But you can’t lecture. You can’t coerce. You can’t shame people.””
From my perspective, this approach seems to be working. One thing I can say for certain, MDHA made an excellent choice in contracting with the Stewpot, the experts in providing homeless services here in Dallas, for running the feeding program. With an expectation of feeding around 700 people per meal, and with the reality often approaching 900, the dining hall is running swimmingly.