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Befriending People in Dallas Who Are Homeless

Racism, Our Familiar Companion January 28, 2012

Filed under: and a little child shall lead them,healing,peace,Racism — Karen Shafer @ 8:44 pm

Saturday, January 28, 2011

Racism, Our Familiar Companion

Last Sunday, I was sitting on the patio of a Dallas cafe having lunch with my nine-year-old granddaughter and one of her friends.  The friend had gone to climb on some nearby play equipment, and my granddaughter leaned over and whispered to me, “Grandma, do you know the ‘n-word’?”  “Yes, I know it,” I replied, wondering where this was going — this granddaughter is mixed race, partially of African-American descent.



“A boy at school came up behind me this week and said, ‘Hey, N – – – – -, get out of the way.'”  I didn’t try to hide my astonishment.  “What?????  I am really shocked to hear that,” I told her.  I asked for more details:  whether she’d told the teacher and how things proceeded from there.  “Yes, I told the teacher, and she made him come all the way across the room and apologize.”  “How did you feel about all of this?”  “Well, it really hurt my feelings.”  “I can well imagine.”



We began to discuss the ‘n-word’ itself.  She was obviously well aware of the ‘not-OK-ness’ of people calling someone of a different race the word, but  I said, “You know, in the rap community, people sometimes use that word towards each other, and they feel that’s OK.”  “Yes, I know.”  It seemed clear that the distinctions between the differing usages were evident to her from our discussion that followed.



I didn’t want, at that point, to know the race of the name-calling child — let’s call him Howie, and I specifically refrained from asking, not wanting to add to the ‘divide’, nor to begin stereotyping the child in my own mind.  I just wanted to process the transaction, which over the next many hours and days I inevitably have done.



When I picked up my granddaughter at school on Monday, she said, “I was partners with Howie in class today.”  “Really,” I asked, “And how did that go?”  “Fine, he has trouble reading and can only read little words, like ‘it’.  He’s in a special group.”  “Well,” I said, “that must be hard for him.”  “Yes, but he’s the one who called me the N-word!”  “Oh, yes, I remember.  So how did your work together turn out?”  “Well, at the end, we were supposed to shake hands, but he would only shake with his elbow.”  I guessed at what that action represented in his mind, but to her I said, “Hmm, why do you think he did that?”  “I have no idea,” she replied.



I have stewed about this day after day.  The incident presents itself to me in the odd hours — quiet times, the middle of the night.   I admit it took me very much by surprise.  I raised a biracial daughter who is now thirty years old, and, to my knowledge, this racial epithet throwing didn’t happen to her.  It is not that I’m naive enough to believe that people don’t think in these terms.  Perhaps any of my daughter’s school fellows who had these thoughts were just too well-mannered to express them.



The anguish of knowing that someone you love as much as I love this grandchild has to put up with this kind of garbage gets me right in the solar plexus.  I have processed it layer by layer as the days have passed, and I still am — and I’m sure will continue to do so.  It’s so troubling that it took me days to discuss it with friends or family.  But after a lot of reflection, I’ve at least been able to find some positives.



1)  My granddaughter seems to be handling it well.  I’m not sure about the teacher’s motive in having her and Howie work together, and I want to find out.  But my granddaughter seems to understand that it’s about his belief system and not about her value as a human being.



2)  The reality that thirty, forty, fifty years ago or more (and probably in some places today), a white person (and this boy is white, it turns out) could put violence behind their words towards a person of color with impunity, and that today the justice system and the public consciousness has begun to come to terms with these issues successfully — that they produce outrage and legal repercussions — shows that, although racism is alive and in many ways has only changed it’s form, a lot of progress has been made.



3)  What kind of words is this child hearing about race at home?  I can’t be sure, of course, but guessing at the possibilities, I feel frightened and extremely sad.



4)  Such an experience could prepare one for the world as it is, if handled properly.



5)  This is my predominant thought:  what kind of courage did it take for those African American parents in the deep south during desegregation to send their precious children off to a white school?  How must it have felt for them, not to mention their children, to meet not only the jeering and vitriolic hatred of white parents and fellow students, but to face angry, self-righteous politicians, armed local lawmen and attack dogs with the same kind of hatred in their hearts and on their faces — and wearing as well the absolute certainty that their bigotry put them in the right?



It seems that bigotry and racial hatred aren’t going anywhere.  All one has to do is listen to national and international news become aware of that.  But at least, if the light is made to shine on them, if they aren’t allowed to fester in hidden places and are called out and held to account, that is not just something — it is a very great deal.





Coercion or Cooperation? January 10, 2012

Monday, January 9, 2012

Coercion or Cooperation?

Pine Street Inn in Boston, Massachusetts, New England’s largest resource for homeless men and women, sends Outreach vans onto the city’s streets 365 nights per year — in the cold, snow and rain — offering homeless men and women help in the form of warm blankets, hot meals, clean clothes and transportation to shelter.  The journal below allows us to follow a van on one night’s journey and details some of the experiences of the shelter’s outreach volunteers.

Imagine just for a moment that you are one of the homeless women or men described in the article.  As you read, ask yourself whether you would respond better to the approach used by Pine Street — one of respect and trust building — or to the methods used by many other cities, which often includes this choice:  “Do you want to go to a shelter or go to jail?”  KS



One Night’s Journey

December 2011

Have you ever wondered what happens to Boston’s homeless men and women on cold winter nights?

Every night, Pine Street Inn’s Outreach vans head out, loaded with warm blankets, hot meals and clean clothes, offering rides to shelter. Through the cold and snow, the Outreach teams crisscross the city from 9:00 p.m. to 5:00 a.m., serving people in need.

Here are just a few of the situations that Outreach counselors Nelson, Vincent and Maggie encounter during one night on the vans.

10:05 p.m., Financial District

Outreach counselors find two homeless women in their 60s, Susan and Annie, huddled together in an alley. Susan was assaulted the previous night, and Annie is determined to stay by her side “to protect her.” Maggie offers the women hot soup and a sandwich. She listens as they tell their story, but senses that it will take time to build their trust before they will accept a ride to the shelter. Reluctantly, the Outreach team moves on, but they will check on Susan and Annie again tomorrow.

1:30 a.m., Washington Crossing

Outside a coffee shop, the Outreach team finds Donald, whom they have encouraged to go to shelter before. Tonight, he accepts a ride to Pine Street. On the way, Donald tells the counselors that he has been sick. By the time the van arrives at Pine Street, Vincent has arranged for Donald to see a doctor the next morning.

3:45 a.m., Boston Common

It’s cold and raining when Nelson spots a light coming from under a bridge. There, Nelson finds James, who is trying to stay dry. Nelson has known James for three months and is slowly trying to build his trust and convince him to spend the night at Pine Street. James has not been ready in the past, but tonight when Nelson asks if he’d like a ride to the shelter, James says “yes.”

A warm bed and a hot meal were his first steps on the road to a better life. Today – with the help of Pine Street – James has a full-time job and is living in his own apartment.

5:00 a.m., Pine Street Inn

The outreach vans return to Pine Street and the counselors meet to talk about the individuals they spoke with the night before and prepare for the next night’s journey.

Video link: “Human Dignity is Paramount:


Should We House Homeless Alcoholics…? January 3, 2012

Tuesday, January 3, 2012


Should We House Homeless Alcoholics or Make Them Get Sober First?


People will doubtless have strong — and differing — opinions about this, but I’ll offer this observation:  the traditional approach of making homeless alcoholics and drug addicts get clean and sober before they qualify for housing has left a large percentage of them still on the street.  The Housing First approach described in this article has some very favorable statistics in its favor.


Is it better, if someone is going to die of their addiction, for them to die cold and alone outdoors?  Maybe if they don’t have the ‘moral courage’ to get clean, this is what they deserve.    This Associated Press article considers some differing perspectives.  What do you think?  KS