The Intermittent Volunteer’s Weblog

Befriending People in Dallas Who Are Homeless

Saving Other People July 30, 2009

Thursday, July 30, 2009


Saving Other People

 

Someone said to me a while back that they’d ‘saved’ a person who was homeless by giving them a job.  I was surprised by this assertion and said so.  Do we really save other people?  In a war zone at the point of a gun, perhaps yes.  But when a person is given an opportunity, it is the person herself or himself who shows up every day and turns the opportunity into success.  “It seems to me that, depending on one’s perspective, either God saves people, they save themselves, or both,” I said at the time.

 

The person with whom I was speaking dismissed my objection, telling me it was just a manner of speaking, and that I had missed the statement’s greater intent.  But I think the distinction is important, because if we claim to ‘save’ someone else, either we are fairly arrogant in believing our own line of chat, or we are disingenuous and condescending in thinking others will or should buy into this concept.

 

Those who have tried and succeeded or tried and failed to help people get off the street know only too well: there are many factors that play into the outcome of such attempts, one of the most significant being the person’s readiness to make the gargantuan shift away from street life and into housing and employment. Timing is a critical element.

 

Not long ago I had a conversation with a man who had been living on the street for many years and battling homelessness, mental illness, addiction, and cancer all at once.  He had been placed in housing by a nonprofit agency, but partly because there were not adequate support services attached to the housing, and partly because — by his own report — of his own state of mind, he ended up giving up the apartment and going back into a shelter.  It was too much responsibility and too little structure battling all his challenges at the same time, and, he said, he was lonely, missing the street community of which he had so long been a part.  He then succeeded, within the shelter he had chosen to reenter, in getting his mental illness and addiction under control, got treatment for his cancer and went into remission, and was then ready to once more move into a permanent supportive housing situation.

 

Recently I asked a good friend, Pastor Karen Dudley of the Dallas International Street Church, how her program had gone about facilitating the rehabilitation of those people within her discipleship, many of whom I know to have tried many other approaches before coming to the DISC.  I was expecting a lengthy exposition on philosophy and practice and was quite surprised by the simplicity of Pastor Karen’s response, which is probably why I remember it.  She spoke first of the primary importance of the constant and ongoing spiritual and religious aspects of life at the DISC, and then said:

 

“but the reconstruction of themselves is up to them.”


That simple phrase has continued to ring truer to me than almost anything I’ve heard about helping people get off the street.

 

I know that I am prickly on this subject of ‘saving’ people, especially friends who are homeless, because I find this sort of rhetoric to be exploitive and demeaning, as though the person being offered assistance were a project or a specimen rather than a capable human being, full of dignity.  Granted, those experiencing homelessness often have extraordinary challenges to overcome, as would anyone in their place.  But I think we have to be oh-so-very careful where we draw the line in our attempts to communicate with one another about their struggles and the ways that we hope to partcipate in the solutions to their dilemmas.  In reality, how we couch our efforts in our language, as well as in our own minds, says a great deal about us.  The metaphor of reaching out to someone is a lot different from the image of reaching down to them.

 

KS

 

Dallas International Street Church:  http://www.kdministries.org/


 

Tommy [Not His Real Name] July 20, 2009

 

Monday, July 20, 2009


Tommy

 

There are occasionally people who impact one’s life significantly, even if you rarely see them.  For me, Tommy is one of those.

 

Tommy lives on the street and is always alone.  It is said of him that he won’t talk, but sometimes there are exceptions.  One of the people he’s always trusted is our mutual friend, Trey.  Trey is one of those earth angels to our homeless friends who does a very great deal to help them — and has for years — but does it all quietly and behind the scenes, with no fanfare.  He’s an important part of Tommy’s safety net, often buying him clothes and checking on him, and Trey will be moving out of town soon with his wife and young children.  So Tommy is strongly on my mind these days, knowing that an important link in his support network will soon be missing.

 

I saw Tommy this week at a monthly meeting that we both attend.  I usually sit at the same table with him at the meeting, but this week our tables were adjacent.  During a speech by someone that got a little lengthy, I looked over at him and he was looking my way.  He made the motion of casting a fishing line off into the distance and reeling it in, then cut a look back at me and flashed a rare, enigmatic smile.  I laughed.  “Somebody needs to reel in this speaker,” he was telling me.

 

I’ve known Tommy for a number of years, back from the time of the Day Resource Center when I used to volunteer there on Friday evenings, tagging along with Our Calling Ministries because they’d let me give away clothing I’d collected for our homeless friends after the ministry had served a hot, home-cooked meal to several hundred street people on the DRC parking lot.  Although his is a sizable physical presence, Tommy is so quiet and still that it is somehow possible to be almost unaware that he’s around.  I remember going away from a freezing cold evening on that urine-soaked parking lot and thinking, “Wait a minute?  Who was that person in a large army-green trench coat standing stock still most of the night, all on his own in the shadows?”  I had the feeling it had been an apparition.  Then I had the strangest thought — that it was Christ Himself among us. I still think that thought was right.

 

Soon Trey introduced me to him, and from that time on I made a point of saying, “Hi, Tommy,” whether or not he responded, but often he did.  Then one night in prayer circle, he was suddenly standing next to me and even held my hand.  From then on, I would often look up to find him standing nearby when I was handing out clothing, and sometimes we would have a brief conversation.

 

I wonder if Tommy mostly refuses to speak with people because sometimes his words don’t come out as he wants them to.  After this week’s meeting, I asked him if he needed some new clothes, as he tends to wear what he has down to the bitter end of its usefulness (and way past its cleanliness), and he replied, in his soft drawl, “Wellll…  I could use some shoes, or whatever you can get.”  I looked at his shoes, which have become well-vented over the summer through coming apart at the seams.  He told me his shoe size, and then, as has often happened when I talk to him, he began to speak further, but his words came out in a jumble.  (The words themselves are sometimes of the so-big-that-average-people-have-to-consult-a-dictionary variety.)  I saw him wince almost imperceptibly, as though he himself was surprised by it, and I tried not to register discomfiture but rather to go on with the conversation as though I understood.  This somehow seems to reassure him.  Although we both knew I didn’t get it all, it was OK, because we had made a connection.

 

One night on the DRC parking lot a few years back, I asked him if he wanted me to help him look for housing through a new program that Central Dallas Ministries was starting called Destination Home.  “No,” he said, “you see, I’m mentally ill…” and then his words continued in a stream but went off in an obtuse direction and were spoken so softly that I couldn’t understand them.  “OK,” I said when he was finished.

 

Somehow all of the highly-publicized help we are giving people who are experiencing homelessness in Dallas through our city services — and our arresting, ticketing, jailing and trying to force them into mental health care for which there’s inadequate funding to keep them there — as well as our efforts to transition them into housing that’s woefully insufficient because nobody wants ‘the homeless’ in their ‘hood — somehow all of this costly and much-touted assistance is passing Tommy by.  The only place I’ve seen him safe and cared for is The Stewpot. But he still lives on the street and sleeps in the open.  I continually ask myself how he survives.

 

When we can find a place for Tommy (and the many others like him) in ‘our world’…  a place that is safe, that he can trust, where he can be cared for and be able to care for himself, a place that is clean and out of harm’s way…  on that day, I’ll be willing to concede:  we will have made a good start on solving the problem of homelessness in Dallas.  But not until then.

 

KS

 

Reconnecting to ‘The Wild’ July 8, 2009

Wednesday, July 8, 2008

 

Reconnecting to ‘The Wild’

 

This past Fourth of July weekend, one of my daughters, Rose, and granddaughter, Cora, and I went to Glen Rose, Texas to stay a few days, do the ‘Dino’ thing (this granddaughter is six and admires T Rex as much as any six-year-old), and visit Fossil Rim Wildlife Ranch.  [http://www.fossilrim.org/]

 

I’d been to Fossil Rim with my older daughter’s elementary-school class as a Room Mother mannnnnnny years ago for the Scenic Wildlife Drive, accompanied by twenty-five 6-to-9-year olds, and remembered feeding the ostriches through the car window and how it felt like the force of a thunderbolt hitting your hand when they took the food pellet from you.  It was great fun to drive through the 1700 acres, seeing the animals wild and free while we remained safely in our ‘car cage.’

 

This past weekend’s drive through the park was more enjoyable than any of us had imagined.  Cora is a ‘nature fanatic’ — for example, she’s caught and released around fifty snakes and lizards this spring and summer — and her excitement at hand-feeding the endangered Addax, European Red and Fallow Deer, Aoudads and other species through the car windows is easy to imagine.  

 

These days, visitors are warned against feeding the ostriches, but the shrieks and screams all around inside our ‘car cage’ as the aggressive big birds tried to insert their heads and necks through the windows was quite funny.  We got to touch the nose and flank of a Grant’s Zebra as he nuzzled our car door, but the big thrill of the trip was interacting with the giraffes, the only animal one is technically advised to hand feed these days at Fossil Rim because they have no teeth.

 

We’d been told by ranch staff that, if the giraffes were reticent about approaching us to be fed, we should pull our car over, turn off the engine and quietly wait.  “They like to figure out who’s serious about feeding them,” the ranger told us.  When we got to the giraffe area, they were indeed ‘doing their own thing,’ nibbling the tree tops, so we did as instructed, parking near them.

 

It took a few minutes, but soon we saw one of the magnificent giants approaching the rear of the car.  The three of us were giggling and whispering and trying to ‘be cool’ and not scare him away.  Elegantly, he glided slowly over to us and bent his towering head down to the back window, and Cora held out her hand with a feed pellet in it.  His long purple blue tongue gently swooped the pellet into his mouth.  To say that the child was ecstatic understates it.

 

One is strictly forbidden to leave one’s car at Fossil Rim, but we remembered that our car has a moon roof, so we opened it, and Cora stood up through it and continued feeding the enormous, exquisitely beautiful animal as he lowered his head to earth, petting his nose as she did so.  The giraffe was utterly gentle and peaceful, with the most polite entreaties for food we had encountered all day.

 

Cora sat on the top of the car with her legs still inside through the moon roof, and the giraffe nuzzled her ear and then nibbled at her ponytail!  She was overjoyed.  It was a moment none of us will ever forget.

 

We all three came away from Fossil Rim in a joyful state.  It is so important to connect with the natural world, and I often forget this living in the city.  What a gift these beautiful, inquisitive animals gave us.  We have an incalculable treasure just an hour and a half from Dallas.  After the weekend, I felt more restored and whole than I have in years.

 

This experience brought to mind what many of the Stewpot Community Court Volunteers and the Dallas International Street Church disciples said on the Garden-Raising Day at the Street Church on May 2, 2009.  There was something about being outdoors, close to Mother Earth, that helped us all relate and get along in a way that would not have been possible in a different setting.

https://theintermittentvolunteer.wordpress.com/2009/05/02/the-garden-raising-day-may-2-2009/

 

We get disjointed, disconnected — or I do — and my life begins to feel compartmentalized.  But how healing it is to remember and to feel at a deep level that we are an integral part of a much greater picture than our daily concerns allow us to realize, even though those concerns may be of the utmost significance.  If we’re lucky and take the time, the ‘critters’ and the grandkids can help us find our way back to sanity.

 

KS

 

Mac or No Mac? July 6, 2009

Filed under: no technosavvywhatsoever — Karen Shafer @ 8:17 pm

 

Monday, July 6, 2009

Mac or No Mac?

 

A week and a half ago, my MacBook gave its little all and went ‘belly up.’  Being unplugged was traumatic for the first few days, but then I began to feel surprisingly, exhilaratingly free.

 

However, it’s not really a possibility to stay unplugged for long in our culture, is it?  And I’m sure it would have gotten weird to have gone on much longer.  Still, I was surprised that the longer I was without the internet and email, the less I missed it.

 

That said, tonight I took my MacBook into the Apple store in Northpark for an appointment that was to be either its autopsy or its organ transplant.  Hooray!!!  It was the latter.  The lovely guy at the Genius Bar told me after about three minutes that it was the battery that was the problem.  Then he plopped a new one in, closed the computer and handed it to me.  “How much?” I asked warily.  “Oh, no charge,” he smiled.  Full of unanticipated glee, I blew a kiss to this long-haired perfect stranger — which he thought was pretty funny.  His t-shirt said, quite rightly, ‘Not All Heroes Wear Capes.’

 

This — and my pathetically inadequate computer-capable DNA — is why I LOVE MY MAC.

 

KS