The Intermittent Volunteer’s Weblog

Befriending People in Dallas Who Are Homeless

Thank You, Carlos January 30, 2009

Friday, January 30, 2009

 

I have received an email from my friend, Carlos, who is shocked and outraged that the city seizes the private property of homeless citizens and destroys their dwellings during police sweeps and arrests.  Here is what he said in part:


“I read what you wrote about the police destroying the homeless people dwellings and taking away their things.  Why are the police being so cruel to the homeless?

The city is telling them to harm the homeless! oh no ! we’ve got to do some thing about this. I will be looking for the link on your blog for the city of dallas. 

You know I understand that it does not look good to have all these homeless people hanging around businesses, but it is part of the city’s fault for not making it a priority to give them a place to go to. I  think the city should do more in fixing this problem instead of spending money on new hotels and other things like that, they should do more for the homeless. what the city does not realize is that it is going to get worse.  if there are (and I am guessing) 10,000 homeless just in Dallas this year, in 5 years it will be 30,000 may be 50,000, and then it will be too late, so something needs to be done. get them jobs and traning in something.”


Carlos has requested information on how to contact the mayor and city council about this.  Here’s how to do it.  It probably makes the biggest impact of all for ordinary citizens to speak to their city government directly about something that seems to them to be an abuse.  They are used to hearing from advocates and service providers!  It can make a difference.


Thank you, Carlos, for suggesting this:

 

Go to this link:

 

http://www.dallascityhall.com/contact.html

 

In the blue menu at left, click on:

 

“Mayor and City Council E-Mail”.

 

Click on this option at the top of the page:

 

“Email the Mayor and ALL the Councilmembers at one time.”

 

The form pops up for sending a group email to Mayor Leppert and City Council.

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Arrested & Jailed: Sherry Parker, Poet January 28, 2009

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

 

Arrested & Jailed

 

Three days after the Bridge closed its courtyard for sleeping and the subsequent police sweeps began, Sherry Parker and her boyfriend, Sarge, were arrested for ‘criminal trespass’, which in this case meant sleeping in public on private property, and spent ten days in jail.  I had heard about this through the ‘grapevine’ when I went looking for them in early December and couldn’t find them.

 

The police report of their arrest says they were ‘warned.’  They say not.  Sherry had a clean record;  Sarge had just worked off some tickets through community service.  They were told by the arresting officer that this offense would put a Class B Misdemeanor on their records.

 

Both Sherry and Sarge work full time, but their hours prevent them getting into shelters to sleep, including the Bridge, as they often work evenings. 

 

Sherry, like many women on the street I’ve spoken with, used to sometimes seek shelter and safety on the Bridge campus.

 

I ran into them in late December and sat with them on some steps to get caught up, at which time Sherry handed me the following new poem from her journal.  It was cold on the concrete steps, and they had just been robbed.  As luck would have it, an Anonymous Angel had just filled my car with coats and blankets.

 

Does adding a Class B Misdemeanor to people’s records help them get out of homelessness?  What do you think?

 

KS

 

Always Returning


Always returning

     to some lost place

Where the winds moan softly —

Surrounding me in the emptiness…


Always returning

     in the same swift race

Speeding up gradually;

Enjoying the chase —


Always returning

     to some promised light — 

That beacons out brightly —

Saving souls in the darkness —


Always returning —

     Eternal — to me —

A lost soul —  seeking solace —

Thoughts left bound in their brightness.


copyright Sherry Parker, 12/28/09

 

You may see some of Sherry’s other poetry by clicking on the category “Street Voices” at right.

 

Profiting From Suffering January 24, 2009

Saturday, January 24, 2009

 

Profiting From Suffering


“Aware of the suffering caused by exploitation, social injustice, stealing, and oppression, we are committed to cultivating loving kindness and learning ways to work for the well-being of people, animals, plants, and minerals.  We will practice generosity by sharing our time, energy, and material resources with those who are in need.  We are determined not to steal and not to possess anything that should belong to others.  We will respect the property of others, but will try to prevent others from profiting from human suffering or the suffering of other beings.”


~~Thirteenth precept of the Tiep Hien Order of Buddhism (the Order of Interbeing), founded in Vietnam during the war, from Thich Nhat Hanh’s book, Being Peace.


Question:  Is it profiting from the suffering of others when people are ticketed and arrested simply for being homeless, based on the theory that businesses downtown will only grow if homeless people are not around?  KS

 

Things That Make You Go ‘Hmmm’… January 17, 2009

Saturday, January 17, 2008

Things That Make You Go ‘Hmmm’…

 

How is it that…?

 

…the Dallas Police Department picked 8:00 A.M., Wednesday, January 14, 2009, the coldest day of this winter thus far, to raid the homeless camps outside the city center, destroy people’s cardboard houses, seize their personal belongings and ticket the homeless individuals living there?

 

How is it that…?

 

…when I was at the decimated camp site last night with a friend talking to camp leader, [let’s call him] Harry, who was a recipient of this raid, and who had been cuffed in addition to being ticketed and having his belongings and home taken away, I was the one who couldn’t stop crying, and he was the one who put his arms around me, held onto me for a long time and comforted me, saying into my ear:  “You can’t be sad, please don’t cry, it’s nothing bad, it’s only good.  It’s all in God’s hands, it was all been planned from the beginning.  There’s nothing bad in this, you have to believe me.  Do you believe me?  Have faith, know that only good will come of this.  It is all supposed to be happening.  You can’t cry.  I don’t want you to be sad.”  Then, because of his solace, my tears stopped.  My friend and I had gone to ‘Harry’ and his friends last night to help them out with coats and blankets, but, as has so often happened with homeless friends in the past, the comfort came back more than it went out, and he saved me from despair.

 

How is it that…?

 

…with 1300 shelter beds in the city (not including 300+ at the Bridge) and over 5869 homeless women, men and children in Dallas counted in the homeless census for 2008 [most people close to the homeless community consider the number 10,000 to be a more accurate estimate], the City of Dallas considers it appropriate behavior to ticket, arrest and generally hound the homeless until they are either in jail or in hiding, pretending that they have options as to where to go?  

 

Here’s a quote from NBCDFW for January 14, 2009:  “A small army of Dallas bike patrol officers took to the streets of downtown Wednesday to move the homeless population off the streets and into shelters…  Over the past week, Dallas Bike Patrol Officers have written 200 trespass citations in and around downtown.  “We will be going into Deep Ellum and the Cedars next,” Allen said.  “This will be an on-going operation.”


I’m no math major, but even I can see the discrepancy in numbers here.  Does the City believe that Dallas citizens are so clueless or so gullible as to be unable to subtract 1300 from 5869 and come up with 4569 homeless people who have no access to a shelter bed?  “Into shelters”?  Shouldn’t we just say “get them to disappear into thin air”?  (OK, well, I am so clueless that when I first calculated the numbers in my head I got 3569, but never mind.)

 

How is it that…?

 

…it takes twelve Dallas Police Officers to stop and search a homeless man and his bags when he is on his way to work, as happened this week [without probable cause, as far as I can tell]?  Twelve.  Is that an effective use of police resources?  Those must be some ‘powerful-bad’ blankets he has to carry with him everywhere he goes because people are routinely getting their belongings stolen in the Bridge storage facilities.

 

How is it that…?

 

…laws such as ‘sleeping in public’ and ‘obstructing the sidewalk’ can be considered constitutional, when, if you or I took these actions dressed in a business suit, there is very little chance that we would be ticketed for them?  In other words, so-called ‘quality of life’ ordinances are not applied to all citizens equally, but only to those who ‘look homeless’.

 

How is it that…?

 

…in the greatest city in the world (in my opinion), Paris, France, it is not at all unusual to be panhandled, even on the Metro (subway), and people still, miracle of miracles, live in, work in and flock to this vibrant, extremely diverse city from all over the world?  Could it be that we’re putting too much blame on the homeless for challenges in revitalizing downtown Dallas?

 

How is it that…?

 

…after all the progress we’ve made toward compassionate solutions to homelessness in Dallas, we are once again back to this state of affairs, when everyone, including City Hall and the Dallas Police Department, knows better?

 

These are a few of the Things That Make Me Go ‘Hmmmm.’  What about you?

 

KS

 

… ‘And Now We’re In the Woods’ January 15, 2009

Thursday, January 15, 2009

 

I’ve known Scott for years, and, sometimes when I see him, he doesn’t feel like talking.  Sometimes when he talks, his words are so big and he is so erudite that I have to seek out a dictionary in order to understand him. Today, though, his words were simple and to the point.

 

“Where did they all go?” Scott asked me.  Although he himself is homeless, he was referring to the scores of people who used to sleep on the Bridge courtyard at night and have been unable to find shelter elsewhere.  

 

“I think they’re hiding in the woods,” I told him.

 

“This city has a horrible gut in it, and it digests people,” he said.  “And now we’re in the woods.”

 

KS

 

Outlawing Homelessness January 9, 2009

Filed under: criminalization of the homeless,homelessness,hunger — Karen Shafer @ 9:32 pm

Friday, January 9, 2009


I walked into my workout place today, and the manager, a woman of heart and compassion, said to me, “Quality of Life???  Who are they kidding?  Whose quality of life?  These homeless people are human beings!  Is is too much trouble for people walking around downtown to have to look at others who are suffering?  It is absolutely outrageous.”  She was referring to an article in the Dallas Morning News entitled “Police target ‘quality of life’ offenders in downtown Dallas” dated January 8, 2009.

[http://www.dallasnews.com/sharedcontent/dws/news/localnews/stories/010709dnmetpanhandlers.4ae1f59.html]

 

The following excerpts from an article by Kristen Brown entitled “Outlawing Homeless” are well worth reading because, after an all-too-brief lull, this is what we are doing in Dallas once again:  targeting and criminalizing  a particular group of people with laws that are specifically designed to get them out of sight:  Dallas Police officers are currently ticketing people for ‘criminal trespass,’ ‘sleeping in public,’ ‘blocking the sidewalk,’ etc.

KS

 

“Outlawing Homelessness”


In the past decade, cities have increasingly moved toward enacting and enforcing laws that specifically criminalize homelessness in response to their concern about the use of public space. Cities enact and enforce these criminal laws as “quick-fix” solutions to remove homeless people from sight, rather than addressing the underlying causes of homelessness. This criminalization trend has been documented in reports by the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty since 1991.


Over one-third of the cities surveyed have initiated crackdowns on homeless people, according to the survey respondents, and almost half of the cities have engaged in police “sweeps” in the past two years.


Driving Homeless People from Sight


Anti-homeless ordinances and policies come in several varieties. First are laws that prohibit certain behavior common among homeless people. In response to the rise of such ordinances, homeless people and advocates have brought lawsuits challenging the constitutionality of the laws. While the results of the lawsuits are varied, in general, broad bans on panhandling and sleeping in public, when challenged by those who have no alternative place to sleep, are vulnerable to legal challenge. However, more narrowly drawn ordinances, such as those restricting begging in certain areas of the city, are not as vulnerable. 


Criminalization is Poor Public Policy


What all the above approaches share is the intent of removing homeless people from public spaces and from sight. Although some city officials’ concerns about public space are valid, the criminalization of homeless individuals is poor public policy for several reasons.


Adoption of laws and policies that punish homeless people rather than addressing the problems that cause homelessness is an ineffective approach. Penalizing people for engaging in innocent behavior – such as sleeping in public, sitting on the sidewalk, or begging – will not reduce the occurrence of these activities or keep homeless people out of public spaces when they have no alternative place to sleep or sit or no other means of subsistence. With insufficient resources for shelter and services for homeless people, imposing punishment for unavoidable activities is not only futile, it is inhumane.


Criminalization of homeless people imposes unnecessary burdens on the criminal justice system. Relying on law enforcement officials and jails to address homelessness and related issues, such as mental illness and substance abuse, that are more appropriately handled by service providers, causes problems and widespread frustrations within the criminal justice system. Police officers are not adequately trained to respond to the situations that arise, the criminal justice system does not provide the necessary treatment and rehabilitation opportunities, and members of jail staff cannot provide the extra supervision that people with mental illness or substance abuse may require. Further, jails are already overcrowded without detaining individuals who have not committed serious crimes.


Criminalization provides no long-term benefit for homeless individuals nor does it provide a lasting solution to the conflicts over public space. Moreover, it is likely to cost significantly more money. The costs of police time and resources and jailing individuals is substantially higher than the cost of providing them with shelter combined with necessary services. In 1993, the estimated cost, determined by the Bureau of Justice Statistics, to incarcerate a person for one day was approximately $40. Based on HUD data adjusted for inflation, the approximate cost to provide housing, food, transportation, and counseling services for one day was $30.90 in 1993. Thus, not only is it much less expensive to provide supportive housing to homeless people than to incarcerate them, but the services associated with supportive housing can potentially move people out of homelessness.


Alternatives To Criminalization


While the national trend toward criminalizing homelessness continues, several cities are pursuing constructive, alternative approaches to dealing with concerns about homeless people. Through these approaches – which often involve collaboration between city officials, police departments, and business people on one hand and homeless people and their advocates on the other – cities attempt to proactively address the problem of homelessness and provide services for homeless people.

 

New Blog In Town January 8, 2009

Thursday, January 8, 2008

 

New Blog In Town

 

There’s a new blog covering the latest news on homelessness in Dallas which I highly recommend.  Here’s the link:

 

http://dallashomelessnetwork.blogspot.com/


The blogger seems to be making an effort to be non-polemical while still representing an advocacy point of view.  This is much needed in Dallas, as is a frequent update on the latest news on homelessness here.  I wish them a widespread readership and impact.

 

KS