The Intermittent Volunteer’s Weblog

Befriending People in Dallas Who Are Homeless

Just Like Us February 26, 2009

Thursday, 2/26/09


Just Like Us


One of the best and kindest people I know — and definitely the smartest — is my friend, John.  He’s one of those people you look at and think:  “How does he do it?”  He is a doctor of theology and teaches at a Dallas university.  He speaks six languages, including Latin.  And, oh yes, he is a classically-trained pianist and vocalist.  Gosh, John, is that all???  


You’d think he’d be ‘full of himself,’ but instead he’s full of humility, humor and love.  The first time my grand kids met him, they talked for an entire year about a story he told them that night — off the top of his head — about a fanciful character called ‘Princerella.’


John also puts himself on the line.  When I first mentioned mobile feeders of the homeless to him a few years back, he was volunteering with them within the week.


I sometimes find myself spouting a concept that sounds pretty clever and suddenly realize, “Hey, wait, I so didn’t come up with that.  I first heard that from John.”  I think of the hatred one often sees directed towards individuals who are homeless by people who don’t know them and have not had personal relationships with them, except perhaps to pass them on the street.  There are strong examples of this prejudice in comments on public blogs.  


When I get frustrated with this irrational hatred and become angered by it, I will sometimes stop and think, “But such hatred is in itself a particular kind of poverty.”  And then… “Wait, I first heard that idea from John.”  I shared this concept with a friend, LeAnne, by e-mail this week when we were both riled up about something unjustly written about our homeless friends, and she got it right away, writing back, “…you’re right.  How awful to have to live that way.” 


Here’s part of an e-mail I received from John this week.



I guess some people judge the community by different perspectives, and particularly when the economic environment is so troublesome, I think people fear for their own survival. When they do so, helping others becomes a luxury that can be left behind. Prioritizing during crisis makes sense. 

I think the city has to come up with a way to understand the humanity of the homeless in a way that will help the rest of us see how we are better together than apart. Unless you meet the homeless and talk to them, it’s hard to see what we have to gain from knowing them and living with them. Knowing them as the other, they can be caricatured and dispensed with. We do it with so many people…”


To me, this e-mail goes to the heart of the matter.  So often, our hearts and minds are changed dramatically when we meet homeless individuals, talk to them, and find out that they are…









Solutions: Warming Stations & Hypothermia Vans February 16, 2009


Monday, February 16, 2009


While Dallas city officials have been busy this winter enforcing ‘quality of life’ ordinances by ticketing and arresting homeless citizens during the bitterest cold weather, other cities have found more humane solutions to the question of “Where will homeless people be during cold weather?” 


Here are some links from various cities around the United States which have employed the use of ‘warming stations’ and ‘hypothermia vans’ to help those without homes get out of the cold:


Charlotte, North Carolina

“Warming shelters open for the homeless”

“Charlotte leaders activating emergency homeless shelters due to the anticipated cold”

Las Vegas, Nevada

“Warming stations for homeless opened”


Middletown, Connecticut

“As cold hits, city makes sure homeless OK”

“City of Middletown says warming station in church breaks zoning laws”


Omaha, Nebraska

“Warming Stations Open For Homeless”

Rochester, New York

“Poor People United, Emergency Warming Station kicks off!”


Portland, Oregon

“Volunteers needed tonight for warming centers”


San Luis Obispo, California

“Prado Day Center offers SLO’s homeless a second shelter from cold”


Washington, D.C.

“Riding cold: Hypothermia van rescues homeless from frigid nights”

“Cold has agencies helping the homeless”


Louisville, Kentucky

“Winter blast leaves 17 dead”



I am beginning to wonder:  are we going to be able to get it right here in Dallas?


Remember, we have less than 2000 shelter beds for around 6000 homeless individuals.  Let’s spend some of the money we have spent on policing this winter on warming stations (other than the jail) and hypothermia vans.  




Dallas International Street Church February 12, 2009

Thursday, February 12, 2009


Dallas International Street Church


Last Saturday, I had the privilege of eating lunch with Pastor Karen Dudley, founder and head pastor of the Dallas International Street Church on Second Avenue in Dallas and some other friends of people who are homeless in Dallas.  The church had just been shut down by the Dallas Fire Department for the second time in two months.


Previously, in early December, 2008, the Street Church had a number of fire code violations which were corrected.  The church got its ‘green tag’ and reopened at the end of December, which meant by the fire department’s standards, it was up to code at that time.  I visited the church for the first time during that closure, and wrote about the experience on this blog:


Rumors abound as to the reasons for this closing, so I’ll not add further fuel to that fire here, but rather will stick to what I know, which is this:  no one in town is doing what Pastor Karen is doing.  She is taking in and giving refuge and care to people who literally have no other options.  The population she serves and the neighborhood where she serves them are both extremely vulnerable.  And… she does what she does with unconditional love the equal of which it would be hard to find anywhere in this city.


Last Saturday night I also had the pleasure of attending the taping of Pastor Karen’s worship service at Access 34 Television.  It was the second time I’d heard the Dallas International Street Church gospel choir — they are terrific!  I hope they produce a CD soon — I’ll be the first in line to buy it.  I suggested this to the choir director, and he said, “First, we have to get the church reopened.  Then we need a keyboard that doesn’t short out when we’re playing it!”  


Anyone have an extra keyboard lying around in the garage you’d like to donate???  If so, I promise you’ll be proud of the choir it backs up!


Here’s a message from Pastor Karen’s website:


“The time is now. If you can help in any way, please contact me, Pastor Karen Dudley, Dallas International Street Church, 2706 2nd Ave., Dallas, Texas 75210  Phone: 214-928-9595”




New Clothes for Mary February 5, 2009


Tuesday, February 3, 2009

New Clothes for Mary


I met a new friend tonight, I’ll call her Mary.  Samuel, her street husband, asked me into their lives about a month and a half ago.  ‘My wife, Mary’s, getting out of prison on February 5.  Will you help me get her some clothes together?  She’ll be coming out with nothing.’


Samuel, whom I met through my good friend, David Timothy (AKA SoupMan), is probably my closest friend on the street.  I’d trust him with my life.  And when I tell you I have good reason to trust him — that that trust has been put to the test —  you can believe it.  When I tell you, also, that he would be tough enough to defend it — you can believe that, too.  He’s one of the people who represents ‘street law’ among the homeless people who know him.


My friend, David, his wife, Shana, and I went to Samuel’s camp tonight in order for me to make the final arrangements to meet him at Dawson State Jail on Industrial Boulevard with Mary’s new clothes this Thursday, February 5, the day of her planned release.  I was then going to drive them back to their house, a series of cardboard boxes under a bridge.  Over the past month and a half since we began planning this, Samuel has asked me at least a dozen times, “Now, you haven’t forgotten about the clothes for Mary, have you?”


When we got to Samuel’s camp tonight, it was empty.  Someone walked by and told us he was staying at the nearby motel for the night.  We offered this person a coat and blanket, and he agreed to go into the motel to tell Samuel we were there.


Samuel came out of the motel courtyard waving his arms, doing a kind of ‘happy dance’, and came running to our van.  In his wake was a pretty woman with long, thick, beautiful brunette hair.  The next few minutes were a blur.  


David got out of the van to greet and embrace them, and, as I opened my door, Samuel flew around to my side of the van and flung his arms around me where I still sat.  “She’s here, she got out early, this is Mary, this is Mary!!!” and Mary began to hug me, too.  Then, a ‘Group Hug,’ and I realized we had Mary’s head in a grip so tight it was like a wrestling lock!  We were laughing and shouting, a pretty spirited reunion for people, two of whom had never met.  Everyone was talking at once.  “I told you, I told you,” he said to Mary.  “This is Karen!  I told you she’d come.”  We introduced Mary to Shana, David’s wife.


I explained to Mary that I had mentioned her situation to my good friend, Kathy Hodgin, at Salon on the Square in the Bishop Arts District, where I get my hair cut, and that she and her customers had collected a new wardrobe of clothing for her from all her sizes Samuel had given me at Christmas:  everything from top to bottom, even sunglasses and a suitcase, and that I was picking these up tomorrow.  Hearing this, she burst into tears.  “I just can’t believe it.  I can’t believe they’ve done that for me.  I have nothing, absolutely nothing.”


Samuel moved to the back of the van to talk to David, while Shana, an avid animal lover, went to check on Cinnamon, Samuel’s sweet and faithful dog.  Mary and I began to talk.  It did not feel like we were strangers.  “Are you glad to be out?”  I asked her.  “Oh, I can’t tell you, just can’t tell you.  180 days, no fresh air, never being outdoors.  Imagine.”  I said I’d always assumed prison inmates get to go out into some sort of yard every day.  “No, never, not for six months, no sunshine, no outdoor air.  I was supposed to get out Thursday, but today was my 180 days, and they couldn’t keep me any longer.  Huntsville called Dawson and said they had to let me go today.”  “Were you at Huntsville for a while?”  “In the beginning, then at Dawson.  While I was in there, I earned my G.E.D.!  And I can type forty-five words per minute!  I want to get a job.”  “Fantastic!”  I told her, “I’ve known some other smart people like yourself who use their time inside to get their skills together.” 


She confided to me, “I really want to make it this time.  I want to do right.  Please, please pray for me.  Do you know where I can get a job?  I have a felony, a non violent one.  Nobody wants to hire you with a felony.”  I told her about a job training/ placement program at a local nonprofit that might be able to help and offered to take her there, and she agreed.


She talked about what a good, long-time friend David had been to her.  “He even came to visit me in jail before!” she said, “and he put some money into my account so I could go to the commissary.”  “He’s truly a great friend,” I agreed, “I think we should call him Saint David, don’t you?”  “Yes!”


More words tumbled out in a rush as she looked down and struggled to control her emotions, “My dad died while I was in there,” she said, and her voice broke.  I asked,  “Did you…get to go out to…?”  “No, no… you don’t get out for things like that.”  Unsure if I should hug her at such a personal moment, I took a risk and did, and she cried against my shoulder.  I told her, “You surely need to let yourself cry plenty about that one.”


Then tears turned to laughter as she described her walk to the homeless camp from Dawson after her release.  “I didn’t have a way to let Samuel know I was out today, so I walked here.  I just showed up and said, ‘I’m here!’”  “Oh, my gosh, that must be seven miles!”  “You should have seen me!” she went on.  “At the jail, they gave me a dress that was much too big — it hung down almost to my ankles and had big yellow flowers on it!”  We were laughing.  “When I got here, Samuel was in shock that I showed up two days early.”


“The women at my friend’s Salon, who got you the new clothes.  They’ve not, you know, been involved with homelessness before.”  She nodded.  “They just really wanted to support you.  We all want you to feel that people have your back.”  She looked down and began to cry again, this time with joy.  “I can’t believe all of you have done this for me.  I just can’t believe it,” she said.  “I don’t know how to thank you.”


I’ve known Samuel for three or four years, and I’ve never seen him like he was tonight having Mary back with him.  He was giddy with laughter, alternately crying, talking up a storm, practically frolicking like a pup.  A man who is tough enough to keep order on the streets, brought to his knees by love.


There was a tremendous feeling of celebration, of new beginnings, around the van as we all stood in the dark and talked, our gathering lit only by the light from the motel courtyard near by.  We made plans for me to bring Mary’s new wardrobe, which was waiting packed and ready at Salon on the Square, to her at the camp the next evening.  David, Shana and I said our goodbyes and reboarded the van, pulling away as Samuel, still talking excitedly, followed us down the driveway, shouting his thanks, while Cinnamon trailed along behind him, and, farther back, Mary stood waving.  


Such incredible joy.  A family, reunited.


Karen Shafer


Patience February 2, 2009

Filed under: Christianity,healing,homelessness,hunger,inspiration,Leadership — Karen Shafer @ 9:35 pm

Monday, February 2, 2009


Man!  Leave it to Henri Nouwen to try to make me better than I want to be or seemingly have the capacity to be.  Just when I’m feeling impatient in the extreme with the City of Dallas and their treatment of the homeless and the pace of progress regarding change, he hands me this:

“Entering Actively into the Thick of Life”

“What, then is the compassionate way?  The compassionate way is the patient way.  Patience is the discipline of compassion…  The words ‘passion’ and ‘patience’ both find their roots in the Latin word ‘pati’, which means “suffering.”  The compassionate life could be described as a life patiently lived with others…  If we ourselves are unable to suffer, we cannot suffer with others.  If we lack the strength to carry the burden of our own lives, we cannot accept the burden of our neighbors.  Patience is the hard but fruitful discipline of the disciple of the compassionate God.

At first this may sound disappointing.  It really sounds like a cop-out.  Each time we hear the word ‘patience’, we tend to cringe…

But true patience is the opposite of a passive waiting in which we let things happen and allow others to make the decisions.  Patience means to enter actively into the thick of life and to fully bear the suffering within and around us.  Patience is the capacity to see, hear, touch, taste, and smell as fully as possible the inner and outer events of our lives.  It is to enter our lives with open eyes, ears, and hands so that we really know what is happening.  Patience is an extremely difficult discipline precisely because it counteracts our unreflective impulse to flee or fight.  When we see an accident on the road, something in us pushes the accelerator.  When someone approaches a sensitive issue, something in us tries to change the subject.  When a shameful memory presents itself, something in us wants to forget it.  And if we cannot flee, we fight.  We fight the one who challenges our opinions, the people who question our power, and the circumstances that force us to change.

Patience requires us to go beyond the choice between fleeing or fighting…  It calls for discipline because it goes against the grain of our impulses.  Patience involves staying with it, living it through, listening carefully to what presents itself to us here and now…  [it] means stopping on the road when someone in pain needs immediate attention…  overcoming the fear of a controversial subject…  paying attention to shameful memories and searching for forgiveness without having to forget.  It means welcoming sincere criticism and evaluating changing conditions.  In short, patience is a willingness to be influenced even when this requires giving up control and entering into unknown territory.”

                              ~~Compassion, Henri J.M. Nouwen, Donald P. NcNeill, Douglas A. Morrison