The Intermittent Volunteer’s Weblog

Befriending People in Dallas Who Are Homeless

Living Proof November 21, 2009

Saturday, November 21, 2009


Living Proof


As you may know, the stereotype of the adult Trust Baby who lives on the street by choice because he or she doesn’t want to obey society’s rules is, if not a downright myth, then at least a rare exception among those experiencing street-dwelling homelessness, particularly on a long-term basis.  At a Homeless Advocacy Meeting I attended this week at The Stewpot, as I looked around the room, I asked myself, as I often do:  “What is the profile of a person who is homeless?”  My answer, after years of pondering the question, is that there is no profile.  As with the ‘housed,’ each person’s story is unique.  However, I have observed that a history of family poverty and an interruption in the process of formal education seem to be a common themes among many individuals experiencing so-called ‘chronic’ homelessness that I’ve come to know over the past six years.

 

So, when I hear someone offering solutions to problems of poverty, disease and a lack of education on a global scale, and offering them in a clear-headed and practical way, I tend to listen.  That happened last week when I caught an interview with Melinda Gates on the Charlie Rose Show on PBS (KERA.)

 

It was later than I like to be awake, but I couldn’t quit watching and was riveted to the interchange within the first couple of minutes, because I saw in Melinda a passion and conviction which I’ve come to recognize in those who are committed to positive action on a deep level.  A statement she made — “That mother in Africa whose child is dying of malaria cares just as much about her child as I care about mine” — shows me:  she’s been ‘on the ground,’ engaged in frequent and genuine contact with people who are suffering.   For her, it’s no longer ‘us and them.’

 

What struck me first of all was her manner.  When asked a question, one could tell she had so much information to give in reply that she had to hold back some of it in order to respond to the question within the timeframe allotted.  That kind of interest and accumulation — not to mention synthesis — of data, comes only from a deep and impassioned curiosity.

 

A few things stood out from the interview.

~~ She said that the money she and Bill have put into the The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (many billions) was a drop in the bucket towards solving the problems they address.  In particular, she mentioned the goal of the complete eradication of certain diseases from the planet — malaria, polio, smallpox, HIV-AIDS — and the improvement of public education.  It was Warren Buffet’s donation of tens of billions more that allowed the Foundation to ‘go much deeper’, in her words, in addressing these problems.

~~ She could answer the hard questions, but never in a contentious and divisive way.  When asked about the diversion of aid funds by corrupt governments in the developing world, she answered, with practicality but without blame, that she and Bill had learned that the work was best and most successfully carried out in certain countries where they could work well with accountable governments  — in other words, tried and true solutions based on experience.

~~ The solutions to large, global problems lie, not in one segment of society alone, but rather only in partnerships between private philanthropy, government funding and cooperation, and faith-based organizations.  That’s why, when I hear opinions put forth with monolithic solutions — and most often government participation as an evil is mentioned —  I realize that these comments are based in ideology rather than in reality.  The massive problems of hunger, homelessness, poverty, and global disease are indeed only amenable to large-scale partnering.

~~ The Gates Foundation sticks with it.  They’ve been working on public education for a decade and are just now coming up with really workable answers to the question of what can make it succeed.  At first they tried organizing smaller communities within the larger ones so that troubled kids could feel a sense of connection, but what they’ve learned over time is that the really important variable is — guess what?  the particular adult individual teacher within the classroom.  (How does that make you feel about the Dallas Independent School District laying off experienced, gifted teacher during its budget problems?)  So now, they are trying to quantify exactly what are the characteristics of successful teachers, so that those can be taught and mentored to others.  They are doing this through transparency in teaching methods and outcomes in pilot programs a couple of states — so that success can be shared, passed along, and hopefully instituted across the country.

~~ Something I observed in her manner was a presence of deep caring coupled with a lack of sentimentality.  It may sound strange, but, as I’ve learned myself — sometimes the hard way — sentimentality about an issue can sometimes cloud its reality, and I believe its takes away from the dignity of those experiencing the problem.  There is a fine line between these two, shall we call them ‘values?’ — compassion and sentimentality.  But it’s probably an important line to learn to identify, in order to keep ourselves from enabling on the one hand and becoming cynical on the other.

 

Regardless of our situations, we are all human beings made of the same flesh and blood as well as emotional and spiritual components, and we are in this together.  Not only is ‘right action’ a moral imperative, it is the correct practical option to try and solve these problems that plague our world.

 

KS

 

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation:  All Lives Have Equal Value

http://www.gatesfoundation.org/Pages/home.aspx

The Living Proof Project

http://www.gatesfoundation.org/livingproofproject/Pages/video-gallery.aspx#video=/livingproofproject/Pages/kangaroo-mother-care-malawi.aspx&pager=0

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Overwhelming Need November 14, 2009

 

Saturday, November 14, 2009

With winter upon us, it’s a good time to reflect upon the extremes of need that will exist this year for those who are not yet housed and are living on the street.  I found this entry in my journal from the end of last summer, when I still volunteered at the Second Chance Cafe, run by The Stewpot at the Bridge, and thought I would share it.  KS


Journal Archives, Friday, August 16, 2008


Overwhelming Need


Sometimes the amount of need among people who are experiencing homeless in Dallas — even with the welcome advent of the Bridge, our new homeless assistance center — seems overwhelming.  This was one of those nights.  The enormity of the problems of the people involved, the monumental scope of the pain in their lives, the scarcity of readily available solutions, such as adequate housing:  these things were at the forefront of my mind tonight as I left the Second Chance Cafe at the Bridge after helping to serve dinner to somewhere between seven hundred and eight hundred people.

 

Of course, this evening’s bright spot was, as it always is, looking into the eyes of people as they came through the food line.  Always, but even more so tonight, the eyes of the guests meeting mine as they came through the line — almost without exception — were full of light, respect and dignity, longing for acceptance,  willingness to respond with love to the smallest kindness — so much more so than I would ever be able to be in their circumstances.  They almost always say ‘Very Blessed,’ or at the least ‘Can’t complain,’ when asked how they are doing.  The other great blessings are the other volunteers, who show up every week, and the Stewpot staff, which shows up every day.

 

I find that if I just hand somebody a plate in the food line at the Bridge, they may be looking down, preoccupied or frowning, and go on their way with a ‘thank you,’ but without ever looking up.  If I greet them or ask how they are doing, their whole face, their whole being changes — they become radiant.  If I say their name, they become a friend.  And that is no different than you or me.  It’s just that the desperate nature of their circumstances keeps it real:  they know how much it means to have a friend, and what it means not to have any.

 

Why is it that sometimes, like tonight, I look at homeless individuals and the scope of homelessness in Dallas and feel weighed down by the challenges?  Is it seeing people as their ‘diagnosis’ or label rather than seeing them just as the people they are, in the here and now?  Maybe. 

 

I usually see the beauty when I go to the Bridge.  Tonight I could only see how far there is to go.  It was one of those rare times when I say to myself, “How do those who deal with this face to face every single day — for example, the Stewpot staff or the caseworkers and management at the Bridge — how do they do it all the time without losing hope or becoming jaded?”  Granted, I think, write or talk about homelessness in Dallas every day, but I go to the Bridge only a couple of times a month.

 

Perhaps it’s a ‘fix-it’ mentality that one can get into, although trying to ‘fix it’ is a necessary component of approaching the problem as a whole.  Sometimes, though, until we can figure out what we need to ‘do,’ maybe it has to be enough just to go to where the pain is and ‘be with’ it.  It seems that there is tremendous grace in that.  In face, maybe, while action is necessary, being present for someone is the most important part of taking action anyway.

 

Granted, it may not be enough to ‘hang out’ with people who are experiencing homelessness.  But being with them, talking with them, sharing their concerns — one human to another — is one of the most essential parts of what we do, just as it is with our families.

 

KS

 

Mutuality of Ministry November 3, 2009

Filed under: Christianity,healing,Henri Nouwen,inspiration,Leadership,peace,Vocation — Karen Shafer @ 10:52 pm

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Mutuality of Ministry

 

“I am the good shepherd.  I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for my sheep.”  ~~ John 10: 14-15


“…the same Lord who binds us together in love will also reveal himself to us and others as we walk together on the road.”  ~~ Henri Nouwen

 

I read the following passages recently and felt they challenged, in important ways, certain commonly-held cultural assumptions about ‘helping’ and ‘serving others’.  What do you think?  KS

 

“Ministry is not only a communal experience, it is also a mutual experience…  [Jesus] wants Peter to feed his sheep and care for them, not as ‘professionals’ who know their clients’ problems and take care of them, but as vulnerable brothers and sisters who know and are known, who care and are cared for, who forgive and are being forgiven, who love and are being loved.

 

Somehow we have come to believe that good leadership requires a safe distance from those we are called to lead…  Someone serves, someone else is being served, and be sure not to mix up the roles!  But how can we lay down our life for those with whom we are not even allowed to enter into a deep personal relationship?

 

We are not the healers, we are not the reconcilers, we are not the givers of life.  We are sinful, broken vulnerable people who need as much care as anyone we care for.  The mystery of ministry is that we have been chosen to make our own limited and very conditional love the gateway for the unlimited and unconditional love of God.

 

Therefore, true ministry must be mutual.  When the members of a community of faith cannot truly know and love their shepherd, shepherding quickly becomes a subtle way of exercising power over others and begins to show authoritarian and dictatorial traits.  The world in which we live — a world of efficiency and control — has no models to offer to those who want to be shepherds in the way Jesus was a shepherd.  Even the so-called ‘helping professions’ have been so thoroughly secularized that mutuality can only be seen as a weakness and a dangerous form of role confusion.  The leadership about which Jesus speaks is of a radically different kind from the leadership offered by the world.  It is a servant leadership*… in which the leader is a vulnerable servant who needs the people as much as they need their leader… a leadership that is not modeled on the power games of the world, but on the servant-leader Jesus, who came to give his life for the salvation of many.”

 

                               ~~ Henri Nouwen, In the Name of Jesus, Reflections on Christian Leadership

 

*Robert K. Greenleaf, Servant Leadership: A Journey into the Nature of Legitimate Power and Greatness.