The Intermittent Volunteer’s Weblog

Befriending People in Dallas Who Are Homeless

‘Tough’ Versus ‘Love’ February 19, 2010

Friday, February 19, 2010


‘Tough’ Versus ‘Love’


On the day before the Big Snow of February, 2010, two weeks ago, a Crisis Intervention team from the City of Dallas — (now part of the Dallas Police Department) — raided the homeless camps under a bridge.  All of the personal possessions of the camp inhabitants — clothing, blankets, coats, years’-worth of belongings — were shoveled up by two bulldozers, and four to five loads comprising the contents of the ‘cardboard community’ were dumped into city trucks and taken to the landfill.

Raids by the city of homeless camps are commonplace and routine in Dallas.  I would suggest, however, that our city has reached a new ‘low’ in terms of human decency and compassion when a raid is conducted under these circumstances and in this weather.  Where does one start to address such an occurrence?

By early the following week, people in the camp were still without adequate [cardboard] shelter, blankets, coats and clothing.  Their non-replaceable personal possessions were permanently lost.  Think of the time that intervened between the raid and the week that followed.

At our house, where family members who were without power stayed together, we built a snow igloo, drank coffee, changed wet clothing about ten times a day, scrounged firewood that was dry enough to make a fire in the fireplace, and watched movies together at night under piles of blankets.  Even with the added warmth of the fireplace, the central heating rarely stopped.  It was a great snow — a fun adventure.

Not so much fun, however, if you’d just lost your cardboard home and everything you own in a raid by a city that is supposed to have your best interest at heart.

Witnesses to the ‘sweep’ say that, just prior to the raid, no warning was given.  The trucks arrived at 10 minutes to 2 P.M., and at 2 P.M., the dozers started scooping up the small cardboard community.  It is my understanding that the city has agreed, after outrage by ‘housed’ citizens and advocates about these sweeps in the past, to give at least an hour’s notice to camp dwellers. Instead, in this case, the camp members were allowed a ‘one-time carry’:  in other words, all that they could gather in their arms one time, they were permitted to keep.  Of course, those who were at work at the time of the raid were out of luck.

If you were allowed a ‘one-time’ carry of your personal belongings, what would you choose?

Officials are also supposed to offer shelter at the time of the raid as an option.  Witnesses say this procedure was not followed in this case.

Here is the city’s perspective:  they want to force these homeless individuals into shelters.  But the individuals involved don’t want to go.

The shelters provide an invaluable, lifesaving service with remarkable dedication.  Yet there are good reasons why some people don’t want to go into them, feeling that they’re safer in a community on the street.

If  the goal of these raids is to encourage homeless individuals to get permanently off the street, it seems counterproductive to seize their belongings, when these belongings often include personal papers such as birth certificates and other identification which are critical to seeking housing.

Could it be that, if we’ve spent $23 million on a homeless assistance center and still have people living on the street, their presence is simply an affront to the city’s stated goal of Ending Homelessness by 2014?

These sweeps by the city are obviously ineffective, inhumane, and have been rejected by many cities nationwide as unacceptable practice in dealing with street-dwelling homelessness.  It is a mark against our city that they continue here with impunity.

KS

Link:  Pegasus News: “Dallas homeless sweeps are counterproductive”

http://www.pegasusnews.com/news/2010/feb/22/dallas-homeless-sweeps-are-counterproductive/


Link:  Dallas Homeless Network Blog:

http://dallashomelessnetwork.blogspot.com/2010/02/tough-versus-love-dallas-homeless.html

Advertisements
 

We Are the World February 17, 2010

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

We Are the World

Check out this video:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Glny4jSciVI

 

Cold Weather Policy and Our Homeless Neighbors February 14, 2010

Sunday, February 14, 2010


Cold Weather Policy and Our Homeless Neighbors


Driving around downtown in the cold weather in the days preceding the Big Snow in Dallas, I began pondering our city’s Cold Weather Policy for our neighbors who are living on the street.  I had recently learned during the monthly Homeless Advocacy Meeting at The Stewpot that a January, 2010 report by the National Coalition for the Homeless points to 40 degrees F as the temperature recommended for activation of Cold Weather Policy nationwide.

The City of Dallas currently has a policy of 32 degrees — freezing — for such activation:  putting shelters on overflow and opening enough emergency shelters to give everyone a bed.

I was happy to learn this week from Dennis Strickland, Lead Case Worker at The Bridge, that staff there has implemented a policy closer to the NCH recommendation:  37 degrees, or a wind chill of 37 degrees.  They also now allow ‘self-referral’ of guests after 10 PM during cold weather.  There was at least one night during the Big Snow that the gates of The Bridge were not closed for re-entry at 10 P.M., which means there was an open campus. Homeless guests are allowed to sit up in the Welcome Center all night, and, if necessary after referrals and pick up from other shelters, the dining room can be opened for sleeping after getting in extra staff.

These are important and significant improvements over last winter and show an ongoing commitment to accommodate our friends on the street and keep them safe from injury and hypothermia.  The Bridge staff seem to be coping as best they can within the limits of their space availability.

I would love the see the city as a whole move toward adopting all of the recommendations in the NCH report.  The entire report is worth a read.  Here are some highlights that struck me as particularly pertinent.  It is of particular concern that, although ours is far from the most harsh climate in the United States, it is in fact the most dangerous for people living outdoors.

http://www.nationalhomeless.org/publications/winter_weather/index.html

p. 15

the most dangerous cases of hypothermia do not occur when the ambient temperature is far below freezing.  Instead, Dr. O’Connell says, the worst cases they see arise when the days are warm (between 40F and 50F) and the nighttime temperature drops to the mid-30’s.

Temperature cut-offs should be avoided, since the effectiveness of a shelter is decreased when the population it serves does not know, from night to night, whether the shelter will be open.  If a temperature cut-off is necessary, due to financial or other reasons, the cut-off should be at least 40F in order to prevent the most dangerous cases of hypothermia, according to Dr. O’Connell.

p.17

An exemplary winter shelter would be open 24 hours each day between October 1 and April 30, regardless of temperature, as well as any other days during the year when the temperature falls below 40F.  It would also admit all homeless people, regardless of sobriety status or past bans, unless they are violent or causing an extreme disturbance.

It is also important to note that a consistent, across-the-board policy throughout a set number of months and all shelters builds trust between the homeless population and the service providers attempting to help them and indeed to keep them alive.

KS

http://www.nationalhomeless.org/

 

Please Call Me By My True Names February 8, 2010

Monday, February 8, 2010

My good friend, Nancy Johnson, just sent me this poem by Thich Nhat Hanh, one of my two or three favorite sages, and the only one who is still living.  I want to share it with you.  The thing about Thich is, he himself has lived through hell-on-earth during the Vietnam War era, yet has always been and remains a man of peace.  What an inspiration.  KS

Please Call Me by My True Names
by Thich Nhat Hanh
Thich Nhat Hanh, Thich Nhat Hanh poetry, Buddhist, Buddhist poetry, Zen / Chan poetry, [TRADITION SUB2] poetry,  poetry

Don’t say that I will depart tomorrow —
even today I am still arriving.

Look deeply: every second I am arriving
to be a bud on a Spring branch,
to be a tiny bird, with still-fragile wings,
learning to sing in my new nest,
to be a caterpillar in the heart of a flower,
to be a jewel hiding itself in a stone.

I still arrive, in order to laugh and to cry,
to fear and to hope.

The rhythm of my heart is the birth and death
of all that is alive.

I am the mayfly metamorphosing
on the surface of the river.
And I am the bird
that swoops down to swallow the mayfly.

I am the frog swimming happily
in the clear water of a pond.
And I am the grass-snake
that silently feeds itself on the frog.

I am the child in Uganda, all skin and bones,
my legs as thin as bamboo sticks.
And I am the arms merchant,
selling deadly weapons to Uganda.

I am the twelve-year-old girl,
refugee on a small boat,
who throws herself into the ocean
after being raped by a sea pirate.
And I am the pirate,
my heart not yet capable
of seeing and loving.

I am a member of the politburo,
with plenty of power in my hands.
And I am the man who has to pay
his “debt of blood” to my people
dying slowly in a forced-labor camp.

My joy is like Spring, so warm
it makes flowers bloom all over the Earth.
My pain is like a river of tears,
so vast it fills the four oceans.

Please call me by my true names,
so I can hear all my cries and my laughter at once,
so I can see that my joy and pain are one.

Please call me by my true names,
so I can wake up,
and so the door of my heart
can be left open,
the door of compassion.

1989