The Intermittent Volunteer’s Weblog

Befriending People in Dallas Who Are Homeless

Hot Off the Presses! DMN’S Kim Horner & Courtney Perry March 28, 2009

 

Saturday, March 28, 2009

 

Hot Off the Presses!

Kim Horner and Courtney Perry of the Dallas Morning News 

on Homelessness in Dallas

 

A friend just brought me the early edition of the Dallas Morning News for Sunday, March 28, 2009, which he knew I’d want right away.  Front and center on page 1A is the first in a series of articles by Kim Horner, with photographs by Courtney Perry, on homelessness in Dallas, with an emphasis on the ‘chronically homeless.’

 

In reading the article, I was impressed by Kim’s sensitive and comprehensive grasp of this very complicated and heart-rending issue.  I learned a great deal that I didn’t know about aspects of the problem that I never see.  I think this first installment is excellent and goes beyond anything I’ve previously read on the subject here in Dallas.  As usual, Kim is balanced and non-polemical while, I believe, laying out the complex challenges involved in addressing the problems covered.

 

Courtney’s photographs are excellent and show us that she’s been places in the city that few of us will ever go, not surprising for this intrepid photographer.  

 

Kim and Courtney have really done their homework for this series of articles.   I look forward to future installments.  I’m thinking ‘Pulitzer.’  What do you think?

 

http://www.dallasnews.com/sharedcontent/dws/news/localnews/stories/032909dnmethomeless.34d3691.html

 

By the way, SoupMobile gets a mention in the section, ‘Reaching out to the homeless:  Other social services’.  Well deserved!

 

KS

 

 

With No Conditions March 21, 2009

 

Saturday, March 21, 2009

 

I clipped this out of The Angelus, my church’s newsletter, several years ago.  Knowing it’s Lent now rather than Advent, still it can speak to us poignantly.  KS

 

With No Conditions

 

“The day after Thanksgiving the New York Times told [the story] of a 33-year-old local cab driver…  About five years ago, this cabby ‘prayed to God for guidance on how to help the forgotten people of the streets who exist in life’s shadows.’ As he recalls it, God replied:  ‘Make eight pounds of spaghetti, throw it in a pot, give it out on 103rd Street and Broadway with no conditions, and people will come.’  He did, they came, and now he goes from door to door giving people food to eat.  


I am not asking you to stuff the Big Apple with spaghetti, but a New York cabby can bring light into your Advent night.  He prayed to a God who was there;  he listened;  he gave the simple gift God asked of him;  he gave ‘with no conditions’;  and people responded.  Here is your Advent: 

 

Make the Christ who has become a reality, a living light, in your life and in some other life.  Give of yourself… to one dark soul… with no conditions.”


               ~~Written by Walter J. Burghardt (from The Angelus, Newsletter of Church of the Incarnation [Episcopal])


 

The Bible and the Birth Certificate March 13, 2009

Friday, March 13, 2009

The Bible and the Birth Certificate

c Karen Shafer

Friday, March 13, 2009

 

a night this week,

rain pours down from the freeway overpass above,

onto cardboard-box houses that are almost empty.

as the water splashes onto my head,

i think vaguely that it has been under car tires

and must be very dirty.

a man from India,

whose face shines near me in the dark

as he stands inside his empty box-house, says to me,

“what you all are doing makes all the difference.”

i battle back the tears

so as not to embarrass him

or myself.

i will choke on those tears for days,

as the sorrow i see and feel this night makes me ill,

sending me to bed with bronchitis.

it is the sorrow that does it,

not the cold.

i’ve seen this place for years,

this camp outside dallas

erected in desperation by people who have no place else to go –

seen it in various states and stages –

with occupants numbering a hundred,

and with a population of five.

maybe this time is harder

because it is so tragically

just exactly the same.

 

somewhere downtown in a brightly-lit building,

someone pulls a lever,

and the gears begin to turn.

wheels roll through the streets of dallas,

devouring all in their wake,

and move on down into the trenches,

where people wait, huddled under cardboard.

how many times have the dozers and dump trucks

come to this little community?

almost six years i’ve been seeing the aftermath,

yet i’m just a newcomer.

 

is this truly the best we can do?

 

this week, this night,

four friends of the camp’s people

stand helplessly on the sidewalk,

trying to know how to tell the story,

and trying to keep the people alive –

in body and in spirit –

in bitter rain,

and wind which cuts with a vicious bite

through the space

under the freeway overpass.

 

i walk back and forth

in front of the remaining cardboard houses,

up and down the sidewalk in the blackness,

one new pair of socks left in my pocket.

these few box-houses,

back from the dead of last friday’s raid,

won’t last long

against the dump trucks and dozers

which are sure to come again soon.

 

a woman comes towards me in the dark,her face hidden in a hood.  “he’d just gotten a copy of his birth certificate,” she tells me of her husband.  “it was in his Bible.  last friday, the city came while he was downtown, clearing out his warrants [from being arrested for being homeless].  i tried to get them to let me back into our [cardboard] house to get his papers before they tore it down and took it away, but they said no.”

 

her husband was taking the steps he had to take to get off the street.

back to zero.

 

“wait, wait,” i tell her, and i put my arm around her and walk her back down the sidewalk toward the friends who’ve come with me, wanting her to tell another witness, wanting the words to be hers, not mine.  words coming out of a sad face, a cold face, a numb face — a face that can barely hold any more sorrow, but that endures, and one that seems to be past anger, because it has no recourse.  as we walk, she asks me, ‘do you have any clothes?  they took everything.’  ‘i’ll bring you some,’ i promise.

 

a bureaucrat gives an order,

and the trucks roar to life.

workers wield their rakes,

clearing the residue of human lives.

‘you can take your id’s — nothing else,’

they tell these people regarding their own possessions

clothing, bedding, everything is gone.

 

so the man from India

stands inside his empty cardboard house

on this near-freezing night

with two thin blankets

and says to me, without anger or self-pity,

‘feel these blankets.  they are wet.’

he is well-spoken, clearly educated.

i touch the blankets.

‘they are wet,’ i agree. ‘i’m so sorry.’

we have no more blankets with us to give him —

we’ve made the rounds of other camps already —

but what matters to him is that someone sees,

that someone cares.

 

we all need a witness.

 

if there is love and caring,

the wet and wind can be more easily endured.

it feels so bitterly cold under that bridge,

though, near the people, it is warm.

 

trying to rise from the muck,

the woman frantically grasps at the costly sheet of paper,

tucked there within the Good Book,

but both are sucked up into Heaven,

just out of reach of her hands.

the machinery of bureaucracy

is grinding up and spitting out human beings,

along with their hopes, dreams and belongings.

 

no recourse.

 

a group of theorists finds the people, counts them, takes in money on their behalf, and spends it as they see fit.  a group of bureaucrats collects sizable pay checks in the name of aiding the people, returning to elegant houses at day’s end, yet the people themselves are forbidden their cardboard-box homes, though they have nowhere else to go.

 

then, somewhere in the past, present and future, a tall, robust man stands at a podium looking radiant and nods graciously to thunderous applause from like-minded supporters.  crystal sparkles.  luscious food has been presented, nibbled at, pushed away, and removed.  by candlelight, wine is sniffed, sipped, and perhaps sloshed onto starched white tablecloths.

 

the remnants of the food find their way to the landfill,

and mingle there with a Bible and a birth certificate.

 

“i’m happy to report that we’ve solved the problem of homelessness in dallas!” the man says, smiling an appealing and congenial smile.  and, once again, the audience roars to life.

 

as if the magic of machinery can make human beings disappear.

Links:

Larry James Urban Daily Blog:

http://larryjamesurbandaily.blogspot.com/2009/03/bible-and-birth-certificate.html#comments

Janet Morrison’s Community Dialogue:

http://janetmorrison.blogspot.com/2009/03/maybe-its-better-not-to-know.html

Pegasus News:

http://www.pegasusnews.com/news/2009/mar/09/it-time-tent-city-dallas/?refscroll=10411#comments

Dallas Homeless Network Blog:

https://www.blogger.com/comment.g?blogID=7626581935246500287&postID=5736747935276336993

Conscience & Clarity Blog:

http://conscienceclarity.blogspot.com/

Being the Change Blog:

http://rachelcembry.blogspot.com/2010/04/bible-and-birth-certificate.html

 

Trust March 9, 2009

 

Monday, March 9, 2009

Trust

 

When we have solved the problem of homelessness in Dallas, we will know it.  We will not need to ticket, arrest and harass homeless people for being on the streets of our town in order to get them out of sight.  They won’t need to be on the street, because they will have access to housing, social programs, and jobs which pay a living wage.  

 

Our programs serving the homeless will not be averse to criticism, because they will be good, fair, evenhanded and effective.  They will work, and, if they do not work, we will listen to those who ‘know how to,’ and we will change them. Therefore, they will be funded.  

 

Take the example of the Stewpot.  When the Stewpot puts out an appeal, people generously respond.  Why?  Because this is an organization which has credibility, viability, integrity and staying power.  Rules are rules, and the homeless clients they serve know this;  the rules are for everyone, and they don’t change every day.  A client may or may not believe that a rule is fair; nonetheless, trust is built with the organization because those living in the perilous and shifting sands that street life offers know what to expect at the Stewpot, day in and day out.  Donors have the confidence that their donations, in-kind and monetary, will be directed efficiently to the targeted population.  There is a strong, trusted, and experienced leader at the Stewpot [Rev. Bruce Buchanan], and there is accountability among the staff to him. 

 

Clarity.  Consistency.  Transparency.

 

Here is a conversation I had with an intelligent and well-educated ‘chronically homeless’ individual recently in response to my question, “Do you use the [homeless assistance center and shelter system]?”

 

“I tried it for a while, but I gave up.  If I want craziness, I can get it out here [on the street].  I don’t have to go there to get it.  They want me to give up whatever drugs I might want to use, but then they want to put me on their [prescription] drugs in order to sedate me into being a person who can fit into their way of doing things and be compliant.”

 

I am not an advocate of ‘recreational’ drugs — don’t use them or champion their legalization.  I think they are almost wholly destructive.  But this point of view makes sense from a certain perspective.

 

What is the element that is missing between this homeless individual and the organizations built to facilitate her or his getting off the street?  Trust.  I’m not sure I would trust the system much either if I were in his or her position, and I understand the viewpoint even from the privileged perspective of being a property owner and a taxpayer [although, as we are seeing, even these privileges are quite tenuous in uncertain times.] 

 

But when one is utterly powerless and living on the street, it is not likely that one will give up the little power and comfort one has in order to put oneself in the hands of authorities which are perceived to be unreliable, unpredictable and whimsical in their exercise of power, at best.  Not one of us would choose that, would we?  Is it a character flaw to choose independent living, rough as it is, over the perception of a dangerous surrender?  We have squandered an opportunity to win the trust of some chronically homeless individuals in recent months, and I hope it can be rebuilt.

 

“If I want craziness, I can get it out here.  I don’t have to go there to get it.”  A concise and eloquent statement.

 

When we have solved the problem of homelessness in Dallas, we will know it.  There won’t be hundreds to thousands of homeless individuals living in the woods, hiding from Dallas authorities.  We won’t have to dissemble, harass, prosecute, and hound people into shelters and treatment.  Our programs will be open to constructive criticism, and our responses to the same will be forthcoming, measured and rational.

 

As my friend, David Timothy, says of his organization, the SoupMobile:  “I don’t want us to just look good.  I want us to be good.”

 

That is a goal worth striving for, and it is the only one that will succeed.

 

http://www.thestewpot.org/

http://www.soupmobile.org/

 

Karen Shafer

 

Link on Pegasus News:  

http://www.pegasusnews.com/news/2009/mar/10/dallas-homeless-organization-need-develop-trust/

Link on Dallas Homeless Network:

http://dallashomelessnetwork.blogspot.com/

 

Homeward Bound March 3, 2009

 

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

 

Homeward Bound

 

I just got back a couple of hours ago from going with my friend, Soupman (David Timothy), to visit our good friend, Samuel, who lives in a cardboard house.  Tonight, Samuel seemed discouraged.  The police come by every Thursday or Friday and ticket him for ‘sleeping in public’ or ‘littering’, even though there’s no trash around his house whatsoever —  he takes pride in keeping it tidy.  He can work the tickets off in community service, go to Community Court, but the bigger question here is “What is the point of the ticketing?”  Samuel and those in his situation have nowhere to go.

 

People are trying to survive, to work, to live, to get themselves out of the hole they’re in.  Is there any possible way in which constantly being ticketed and warranted and sometimes arrested furthers their efforts to lift themselves up?

 

We are a long, long way from having affordable housing for the 6000 + homeless people in Dallas (a conservative estimate — many think it’s almost double that number.)  We’re also a long way from having enough shelter beds for everyone, or from fulfilling the promise publically made when the Bridge was in the planning stages that it would accommodate the ‘shelter-resistant’ homeless by providing a safe place for them to camp within the homeless assistance center campus.

 

After visiting Samuel, we moved on to visit some other friends who live outdoors.  “How many people are hiding out around here?” I asked James.  “Around 2000,” he responded.  “What??”  I said, incredulous.  “That’s a conservative estimate,” he replied, and his neighbors around us agreed.  James is extremely intelligent:  college educated, ex-military, well-spoken.  I love talking to him.  He’s also reliable in the street sense, and I trust the information he gives me.

 

Earlier, I had sat on the bumper of the truck near Samuel’s house, and he’d knelt by my knee.  We talked for a long time while David did all the heavy lifting of giving out coats and blankets to people who showed up.  “I know I’ve been saying this for a long time,” he told me, “but I’m sick of this.  I want to get out of here.  One of these days you’re going to come down here to get me and say to me, ‘Samuel, let’s go,’ and I’ll just leave.’”  We looked at each other steadily through the darkness, as I scanned my mind for ‘housing first’ initiatives for which he would qualify and came up short.  “Where would we be going?”  I asked him.  I was really hoping he had an answer, because I don’t.  We just kept looking at each other for a long time, saying nothing.

 

Both Samuel and James would be good candidates for ‘housing first,’ as both are independent and have a strong work ethic but have lost faith with the current system in place to help them.

 

Samuel, David and I put our arms around each other before we left, and I felt honored to be chosen to say a prayer. As David and I climbed aboard the van, Samuel said something about heaven, and then he said something I’ll always remember:  “We’re not homeless;  we’re homeward bound.”

 

KS