The Intermittent Volunteer’s Weblog

Befriending People in Dallas Who Are Homeless

Life or Death on a Tuesday May 27, 2009

Filed under: Uncategorized — Karen Shafer @ 12:11 am

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Warning that this story contains graphic content

Life or Death on a Tuesday


This afternoon, I was driving home from a meeting.  One of my daughters and her young children had gone with me, and we were in separate cars on a side street near a freeway, their car about a block ahead of mine.  ‘Road Rage Remedy’ on 101.1 FM was broadcasting something Baroque, my favorite, when just in front of me on the street ahead lay a young woman.  Her head and neck were cradled by the curb, and the rest of her body was in the street, her legs, as they say, akimbo.  People suddenly coming upon her were driving around her.  I could see blood on the bottom of her face and in the area of her neck.  The instant I saw her just in front of my car in the road was one of those surreal moments, a juxtaposition of events which made so little sense that it almost seemed normal.  But this was no commonplace situation, at least not in the world most of us inhabit.


I stopped my car in the right lane of the three-lane road about ten feet from her and turned on my emergency flashers to warn the traffic behind me.  Looking down the street, I saw a group of about eight young men talking to one another, pointing in her direction, but not approaching.  In retrospect, time then slid into a kind of slo-mo.  There seemed to be two or three people between me, the woman, and the group of men, but, oddly, no one was close to her.  Yet there was a lot of traffic on the street.  It was very strange, like one of those scenes you hear about but can’t believe happen, where people stand by and look on while someone is perishing.


As I stepped up to the woman lying in the street and walked around to the side of her which was away from me to search for the source of the blood, I was stunned to see a gaping gash at the base of her neck which reached from just in front of her ear almost to her windpipe in the front.  The wound must have been three inches long and was so deep I couldn’t see the bottom of it, and from it blood pulsed in spurts with each beat of her heart.  Calling 911 as I looked, trying to describe our location, I thought that an artery had been cut.


Meanwhile, people began to approach her and try to help, but I can’t remember how many — four or five — or what they looked like.  Just behind me, in the middle lane of the road, a family in an SUV paused in the traffic and asked what was needed.  “We need something — a cloth of some sort — to stop the flow of blood,” I told them.  “I’m afraid she’s going to bleed to death.”  Already, her blood had flowed down the side of her neck, onto the pavement, and was inching its way down the hill along the gutter for a distance of two or three feet.


Understanding me instantly, and without hesitating, the mother on the passenger side of the SUV sitting in the middle of rush hour traffic grabbed a sweater of thick velour from beside her and put it in my hands.  I turned back to the prostrate young woman and pressed the wad of velour against the wound on her neck, remembering a primary rule of first aid — stop the bleeding with direct pressure when there is no other option, and don’t worry about germs.


I had gotten through to 911, given them our location, and they were calling me back, wanting to know if I’d seen what happened.  I heard someone nearby say that the woman had been stabbed.  I told 911 that I’d only come upon the scene after the fact.  Looking back, I must have come upon it immediately after, which might explain the inaction of some of the people nearby.


Someone else had brought a sweater to press against the wound now, alongside the velour one I was holding to her neck.  As I knelt over her, suddenly there appeared kneeling at her head an EMT with ‘Dallas Fire Rescue’ on his shirt.  He was so calm and kind.  I couldn’t believe he had arrived so quickly, and I thought that someone else must have called 911 before me.  I thanked him for coming so fast.  He gently pulled the velour jacket away from the wound to look at it, then pressed it back, and asked the woman if she could tell if she had breathed blood into her own lungs, apologizing that he had to ask her to speak.  She murmured something softly — I couldn’t tell if it was coherent, and the EMT was unable to understand her.  But her eyes, which haunt me still, were staring up at the sky in a sort of uncomprehending disbelief, and I felt that she was hovering somewhere between life and death.


At that moment, a fire truck pulled up behind my car to our right, and an ambulance arrived coming up the wrong side of the boulevard to our left.  Calmly, purposefully, a number of uniformed men surrounded the woman.  I walked away to give room and asked the driver of the fire truck whether I needed to move my car.  “You’re fine there,” he said.  “I can’t believe you got here so quickly,” I said again, “Thank you so much.”


I stood by my car as the medical team bent over the woman, stabilizing her for the move into the ambulance.  I remember a moment when I noticed her beautiful long, black, wavy hair lying against the pavement under her back, and was struck by the strange combination of the orderliness of her tidy hair contrasting with the blood spattered across her chest and face.  The EMTs lifted her onto a board, then onto a stretcher.  I got into my car, and waited as they rolled her to the back of the ambulance and loaded her in, turned around and drove away.


“She’s somebody’s daughter,” I thought, feeling oddly numb and detached.  Though I knew I was shaken up, I couldn’t feel it yet.  I thought of her clean bermuda shorts and t-shirt — ordinary, everyday clothing for a not-at-all ordinary day.  The gaping wound in her neck danced in front of my eyes in the profoundest detail, as time after time I watched her life’s blood flow out of her body and onto the street.


I called each of my children as I drove away, and we talked it through — I needed to debrief, I guess.  One of them asked, “Will you be able to sleep tonight?”  “It’s her eyes more than her injuries that will haunt me,” I told her.  “It was as if suddenly her life had come to a standstill, and she simply couldn’t make sense of it at all.”  “In shock,” she said.


The word that comes to mind when I think of what happened to this woman today is: vicious.  If someone inflicted that wound on her on purpose, they did it with the utmost intent to decimate and destroy.


She was pretty, clean-cut, innocent-looking and utterly bewildered when I came upon her.  Again — somebody’s daughter, and, as she looked to be around the age of thirty, quite possibly somebody’s mother.  Where was everyone as she lay utterly alone and crippled there on the border between the street and the sidewalk, between life and death?  How will they feel when they find out?


Driving to Starbucks, I got something hot to drink, turned off my cell phone, and went to sit on a bench by White Rock Lake.  Random thoughts drifted by as I watched a sailboat on the water and a crew of people rowing.  “I remember when Queen Anne’s Lace was considered a weed,” I thought to myself as I watched a patch of it blow in the wind, and Lady Bird Johnson flashed through my mind.  A red-winged blackbird flew past, and I was thrilled to spot it.  What a particularly exquisite afternoon.


A thought uppermost in my mind was that I was overwhelmingly grateful that we live in a country where, with the dialing of three numbers — 911 — heroes can appear out of nowhere and make things better — much, much better — for perfect strangers… with kindness, with calmness, with training, with precision, practicing their art.  Today, it seems like a genuine miracle.  I sometimes find a lot wrong with our culture, but there is a lot that is very right about it, too.


I felt, I feel, the most certain connection to this woman that I encountered today.  I want to find her, go to the hospital and sit by her bedside, hold her hand as she comes back to consciousness, if indeed she does.  Although I will in all likelihood never see her again, she is my Sister.





The Garden Is Growing! May 15, 2009

Friday, 5/15/09


The Garden Is Growing!

Update on The Garden: South Dallas, Texas


Stewpot Crew, Mack Houston


The Garden: South Dallas, Texas — a community garden for, by and with people who are homeless or formerly homeless in Dallas — is thriving under the leadership of the Discipleship of the Dallas International Street Church at 2706 Second Avenue near Fair Park.  Team Leaders from the DISC took charge and led a work force of forty people from The Stewpot’s Community Court Project in a successful and fun Garden-Raising Day on Saturday, May 2, 2009.  On April 2 we had a lovely but trash-littered field behind the church; by day’s end of the Garden-Raising, we had seven fully-planted organic raised garden beds!


All of us involved that day were tremendously joyful and proud of our accomplishment.  Not only did these energetic and hardworking crews clean up the field and dig the turf out of the seven 4’ X 12’ garden beds, they hauled and laid concrete block borders, carried organic soil by wheelbarrow from the soil pile to fill the beds, trimmed trees, dug a flower bed, built garden benches and tables, and — the best part — at day’s end, everyone celebrated their labor by planting all seven beds with vegetables, herbs and flowers.


To view a slideshow by Mandy Mulliez of the the garden site, planning meetings,

and the Garden-Raising Day’s events, look here:


 For a video clip of The Garden Team Leaders speaking on television about their experiences, look here:



For many of us, the best thing about the day was the way that teams of homeless and formerly homeless individuals from the two programs, the Dallas International Street Church and the Stewpot Community Court Project, pitched in and worked together in a spirit which was more than harmonious — it was truly joyous!  So many of us came away from the day elated with not only the significant physical accomplishments of the six crews, but the spirit of love, unity and camaraderie that we discovered working together.


More than once during the day, people came up to me and spoke of how hard it can be for people who live or have lived on the street to work together because of the challenges that each faces in his or her life.  They expressed happiness both in their creation of The Garden and in the way they were able to cooperate in order to create it.  Barry, one of the Stewpot supervisors, shared an observation of how people talked about their lives and their challenges with each other as they dug weeds, shoveled soil and planted seeds and plants.


Since the Garden-Raising, I’m proud to report that the six Team Leaders and their teams at the Dallas International Street Church have taken full responsibility for the care and nurture of their garden beds, watering them diligently, adding new plants, and reporting excitedly at our Garden meetings about which seedlings are emerging, what plants are producing, a couple of plants that are having problems and possible organic solutions.  We already have a burgeoning crop of green beans!  I quickly learned at our first full-church Garden meeting that we had many very knowledgeable and skilled gardeners in the congregation, and that knowledge grows and is spread around as people work side by side and share their expertise day by day.  A Friend of the Garden has even donated a hammock where the hardworking gardeners can rest from their labors!


Here are some of the things we are growing this season:  bush beans, Swiss chard, collards, Japanese eggplant, cucumbers, yellow crookneck squash, lettuce, onions, sugar-pod peas, carrots, okra, tomatoes, several varieties of peppers, strawberries, cantaloupe, watermelon, Italian-leaf parsley, cilantro, citronella, roses, marigolds, dianthus, zinnias, nasturtiums and about five other types of flowers — many of them tucked decoratively into the spaces in the concrete blocks.  One of our gardeners is creating a special butterfly and bee garden bed.  The gardeners have not only worked hard, they’ve been very creative in their garden design.


Something exciting and completely unexpected happened a week ago:  just as we had exhausted our initial Seed Money Fund, an Anonymous Angel left an envelope at my house.  On one side was written:  “DON’T ASK WHO…  PLEASE.  IT IS A GIFT.  KEEP UP WITH YOUR WORK.”  On the other side, it said:  “FENCE FUND.  GOOD FENCES MAKE GOOD NEIGHBORS.”  Inside was… $500!  We are very grateful for such kindness, and this Saturday, May 17, the Stewpot DART Community Court Project is sending us another work crew, and we will install our new fencing!


If you are currently or formerly homeless, this is your garden, and you may become a gardener now or at any time by joining one of the teams at the DISC.  (The church office telephone is 214-928-9595.)


Although we are going to wait until fall growing season to invite groups of volunteers to come in from outside the community and work with us, everyone is ALWAYS welcome to visit us — just knock on the Dallas International Street Church door and ask someone to show you the path.  The Garden: South Dallas is a magical and serene place and one where we already love to sit with friends or alone, to talk or simply and quietly ‘find our peace.’


Karen Shafer


Special Thanks to:

Bruce Buchanan and the staff of The Stewpot of First Presbyterian Church, Dallas

The Episcopal Church of the Incarnation, especially Martha Lang, Outreach Director

The Garden Advisory Committee

Friends of The Garden for financial support and in-kind donations

Mandy Mulliez for photography

The Dallas Morning News and Michael Ainsworth for a photo spread of The Garden in the Metro Section on Sunday, May 3

Nancy Baker of White Rock Coffee for great coffee

Aaron Hardwick and Mindy of Breadwinners Restaurants and Catering for breakfast pastries for 100

Sandra Davis of SoupMobile for providing lunch for 100

Soil Building Systems for special pricing on Organic Growers Mix

Lowe’s at Northwest Highway & Jupiter for materials at cost

Louis, Cora and Anna for inspiration

and, OF COURSE, Pastor Karen Dudley for her great leadership, compassion and kindness to us all!


Wish List:

a bird bath

a bat house


concrete blocks for additional beds

cash for additional organic soil purchase

any and all healthy plants

any and all seed, especially heirloom varieties

gardening tools and gloves

limb loppers and pruners

a pole tree trimmer

a subscription to Organic Gardening Magazine []





Some Things Don’t Change: Kim Horner & Thackeray May 11, 2009

Sunday, May 10, 2009


Some Things Don’t Change


If you haven’t yet read Part 2 in Kim Horner’s series in the Dallas Morning News and seen Courtney Perry’s moving photographs about chronic homelessness in Dallas, you’ve missed something vital to understanding the complicated picture of this challenging problem.  Kim’s latest piece blends heart and head in the way in which she excels.  When I finished reading it, I felt both sad and relieved, because it gives context to what I’ve experienced for years but have not fully understood: the human cost of gaps and inadequate services for our people without homes in Dallas.


As mental health support wanes, many doomed to homelessness


I’ve had the privilege of getting to know Kim a little bit in the past few months, and I’ve found her to be a kind and trustworthy individual who tells it like it is, ‘gets it’ at many levels, and is able to synthesize complicated information successfully:  facts, analysis, compassion without sensation.  She knows one doesn’t have to engage in hyperbole in reporting on her ‘beat’, because the situation on the streets of Dallas is heartbreaking enough without it.


Another person who ‘got it’ — and frequently expressed ‘it’ in scathing terms — was William Makepeace Thackeray, when he was writing the novel Vanity Fair (1847-48).  This literary masterpiece, which has been called by some ‘the greatest novel in English,’ is gaining ground in my affections, alongside Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen, as one of my favorite stories of all time.  I first read it in high school and didn’t appreciate it — or understand it — at all. Reading it now, I can only absorb a page or two at a sitting because I find it so dense in meaning and altogether pertinent to modern-day society, and to homelessness in particular.


These passages from Vanity Fair speak for themselves:


“‘There must be classes — there must be rich and poor,’ Dives says, smacking his claret…  Very true;  but think how mysterious and often unaccountable it is — that lottery of life which gives to this man the purple and fine linen, and sends to the other rags for garments and dogs for comforters….  

The hidden and awful Wisdom which apportions the destinies of mankind is pleased so to humiliate and cast down the tender, good, and wise;  and to set up the selfish, the foolish, or the wicked.  Oh, be humble, my brother, in your prosperity!  Be gentle with those who are less lucky, if not more deserving.  Think, what right have you to be scornful, whose virtue is a deficiency of temptation, whose success may be a chance, whose rank may be an ancestor’s accident, whose prosperity is very likely a satire?”





The Garden-Raising Day, May 2, 2009 May 2, 2009


Saturday, May 2, 2009


The Garden-Raising Day, May 2, 2009

DISC & Stewpot Crews, Deborah in Center

DISC & Stewpot Crews, Edward in Center

DISC & Stewpot Crews, Larry in Front


As of today, The Garden: South Dallas, Texas exists on the ground and not just in our minds, hearts, spirits and to-do lists!  And it’s beautiful.

We had a wonderful day.   Thanks very much to every single person who was involved.

Particular appreciation to The Stewpot of First Presbyterian Church, Dallas;  The Episcopal Church of the Incarnation;  and The Garden Committee, all of whom made this possible.

Many Blessings, Karen

For a look at pictures of The Garden-Raising Day in progress, see the inside front cover of the Dallas Morning News Metro Section for Sunday, May 3,  2009.