Tuesday, March 3, 2009
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.”