Monday, March 9, 2009
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.
Link on Pegasus News:
Link on Dallas Homeless Network: